Lib Dems' Phil Willis sets out his party's further education policies
LEGISLATION should be used if necessary to break the cycle of disputes over lecturers' pay, say the Liberal Democrats.
"The Learning and Skills Council may well have the ability to make nationally-agreed pay settlements binding on colleges but, if it is necessary, legislation should be used to make it happen," said Phil Willis, the party's education spokesman.
"If we want there to be a proper career structure in FE then we have to come up with a formula which is binding on all colleges.
"At the moment we have a situation where pay is too dependent on factors like location and where a college is in its budget cycle."
While a pay agreement needs to take account of factors such as the ability of individual lecturers, he says, these variations should be worked into a clearly-defined formula which makes it clear to each college how the deal should be applied to its own lecturers. Patchy implementation of last year's 3.3 per cent increase has led to industrial disputes in colleges around the country which decided not to make the award.
Businesses need to be more actively involved in the whole post-16 sector, with closer links to colleges and a rationalisation of their National Training Organisations. NTOs, of which there are more than100 at present, should be reduced to "less than half a dozen", he says. "A smaller number of NTOs will have more influence. We need to encourage industries to take more control over their own destiny."
He says the relationship between FE and higher education needs to be addressed, with barriers between the sectors "broken down" so that there is "seamless progression" of students.
Foundation degrees, which he supports, relied too heavily on the patronage of universities under the present system, which he describes as an "insult" to FE.
In addition to the party's call for a merger between the Learning and Skills Council and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, he questions the Government's sacred cow of increased participation in higher education. He says the Government's target of 50 per cent HE participation should be abandoned. "There are broad intellectual arguments about the value of HE, but we need to think about where the resources are most needed."
Another top priority would be a reform of the notoriously complicated funding formula for colleges, a hangover from the Further Education Funding Council which is still to be addressed by the LSC. A new formula, he says, should include an element of base funding, calculated by the size of a college, to make it easier to plan budgets.