COLLEGES predict record levels of recruitment to information technology courses this year as more people see these skills as crucial to their job prospects.
A TES snap survey of 15 colleges in England shows considerable optimism among enrolment staff and managers. They say recruitment levels in most subjects will be up on last year.
But senior managers and principals were less optimistic. There are grave doubts that colleges will be able to raise enrolments to the level needed to hit Education Secretary David Blunkett's target of a 700,000 increase by 2002.
With most enrolment programmes only finishing this week, hard statistical data is not yet available, but there is enough evidence to show clear trends.
Recruitment appears to be most bouyant in areas where cash such as education maintenance allowances and access funds are most readily available.
However, other policies have got off to, at best, a faltering start. Colleges struggling to administer individual learning accounts describe the experience as "horrendous" and "a nightmare".
The best uptake appears to be in areas where training and enterprise councils in pilot areas have continued to work with colleges. But the shift this autumn to a national scheme is fraught with bureaucratic problems.
Some colleges have had to take on extra office staff and complain that they are not getting consistent information and advice. Lack of clarity about auditing has led to worries about record-keeping and substantial amounts of expensive photocopying.
Students need their accounts before they can sign up for a course, but lack of publiciy about the scheme means some colleges have had to become the "one stop shop" for course and finance information in order to make the system work. In other areas employers have been encouraging their workers to open an account.
Among 16 to 19-year-olds,
A-level recruitment has been brisk, especially where GCSE results are good or where the allowances have been introduced.
Students are interested in their Curriculum 2000 entitlement to key skills. Some are complementing their subject choices, with IT and media popular fourth or fifth options, though few are mixing academic and vocational A-levels.
Science related to sport or health is expanding and take-up of chemistry, biology and Advanced GNVQ science is increasing in some areas, though physics may be losing out to IT, which is in demand across the board, from beginner to professional levels.
It is also popular in outreach centres where those who want to return to learn can upgrade their basic skills without having to travel to college. But demand for IT at the higher levels is creating a shortage of equipment and staff skills for colleges.
Many women who want to return to work are signing up for access to teaching and nursing, courses possibly in response to government recruitment campaigns. Health and social care programmes are still popular across a broad age range.
Adult demand for higher education is variable and often depends on the potential student's financial position. The situation is also complicated now that universities increasingly offer pre-degree foundation courses previously concentrated in FE colleges.