COLLEGES providing flexible "learner-friendly" courses are being financially penalised, according to new research.
The Further Education Funding Council methodology cannot cope with flexibility, says Amanda Hayes of Kensington and Chelsea college.
She was presenting her paper "Standards" and the Measurement of the Learning Outcomes of Adult Students in Further Education to an educational research network conference, organised by the Further Education Development Agency. She said that students wanted credit for "learning episodes" undertaken in different environments, often over an extended period of time.
"While the "flexible curriculum" has appeared to be the goal for colleges, in reality the funding methods still support a traditional full-time learning model and penalise colleges when students interrupt learning, take longer than expected to complete their studies, or want to transfer to a different course or institution."
The emphasis placed on retention and accreditation, because of the funding regime and inspection, did little to measure the quality of some of the most important learning taking place, she argued.
Outcomes such as increased confidence and good interpersonal skills, were valued by employers yet were seldom measured.
There was a need for research to investigate the non-vocational uses to which students put their learning in the years after they left college, such as contributions to school governing bodies or voluntary groups.
She said staff must sometimes balance the business need to fill courses with the moral imperative to select students who have the potential to be successful.
Ms Hayes said that modern society had become obsessed with "credentialism". But formal assessment and accreditation had been criticised for its failure to value certain types of knowledge or take account of different learning styles.
There were two problems: syllabuses set by examination boards "may allow little room for student negotiation and fail to value knowledge through living"; and assessment was focused on individual achievement, failing to recognise the co-operative way many women preferred to learn.