Minister's failure is catastrophic

6th July 2001 at 01:00
I cannot help but agree with my colleague, John Cassidy, about the current state of turmoil in Scottish further education (Letters, TESS, June 22).

However, your report on the Minister's speech to the Association of Scottish Colleges' conference (in the same issue) provides the answer. Wendy Alexander is not in favour of centrally determined solutions. She appears to be waiting for the Scottish Further Education Funding Council to complete its mapping exercise - which is code for college closures, mergers and closer collaboration - before acting. In case the meaning of this is lost on anyone, this means loss of provision of further education, in Scottish urban areas, in the pursuit of further financial efficiency.

The further education sector is in no shape to deliver on the Scottish Executive's lifelong learning agenda, following years of cutbacks, and the significance which ministers attach to online learning is exaggerated. Your report of Paul Thompson's research suggests that there is a need for traditional further education.

Wendy Alexander's continuing failure to provide for a return to national bargaining is catastrophic for the sector. The McCrone package leads to a further widening of the pay and conditions disparities between the schools and further education sectors, and one which is already encouraging lecturers to jump ship.

This follows years of efficiency savings which have created real recruitment and retention problems in the further education sector. It is difficult to see why, in a tightening labour market, teaching in further education would prove attractive as a career.

It is time that Wendy Alexander took responsibility for further education because it is in a state of crisis and is not capable of fulfilling either the Scottish Executive agenda or the expectations placed upon it by the people of Scotland. If nothing else she ought to realise that at any time, during the academic year, more than 10 per cent of the people of Scotland are enrolled on a course of further education and that most of these people will be voting in the Scottish elections in May 2003.

Nicholas Taylor Branch convenor EISCLA branch Moray College

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