Left-out colleges lodge protest

12th January 1996 at 00:00
College leaders are protesting to the telecommunications watchdog at being left out of its proposals to fund links with the information superhighway.

In a document now out to consultation, OFTEL suggests all primary and secondary schools should be given vouchers to exchange for connection to digital networks.

But the paper rules out funding links with further education colleges, at least in the short term. It says that schools for compulsory school-age children are the things to focus on first. It adds the development of so-called "universal service" should not place unreasonable costs on the industry.

The proposal to sideline colleges in the drive to broaden access to hi-tech services has infuriated some members of the Higginson Committee - the group set up to map the future of information technology in the sector.

Committee member John Gray, who is also principal of Newark and Sherwood College, has written to telecommunications director general Don Cruikshank to call for colleges to be included. In its report, published this week, the committee proposes a five-year plan to boost the use of new technology for both education and management in colleges.

Mr Gray said: "Out of the educational institutions listed in the consultation document, FE would be the last to receive any support towards network links. I find that astonishing when FE is the sector that is looked to for flexible provision to fulfil Britain's goals on lifelong learning."

One inclusion in the Pounds 84 million package of measures is a Pounds 62 million high-speed communications network linking colleges throughout the sector to each other, the Internet and other information resources and databases.

The Labour party welcomed the Higginson Report, but claimed it would be "throttled" by Government cuts. But the party would make no commitments over its own spending if it took office.

An OFTEL spokesman denied colleges were being ignored. He said: "We have had to set out certain priorities as a start-off point, but all the proposals are up for debate."

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