Picture a sector packing a punch

20th March 2009 at 00:00

Is the delay in capital expenditure for the FE sector a good reason to be furious? I'll tell you why it might be.

This is a public service on the brink of glory. The way things are going, it could be unmistakeably world-class in five years: great curriculum, great professionals, great leadership and . er . great buildings.

We have good plans for the first three: sure, there are lots of risks, but we have to hold our nerve and make a success of what we are aiming to do next. I think the sector is ready to step into a full educational trinity alongside schools and universities.

That was until last week. The great buildings planned for tomorrow's FE learners are stuck in a queue for cash. This is frustrating as we hear news of a healthy boost for higher education's estate at the same time.

OK, mistakes were made, but where do we go from here? Hands up anyone who thinks we should tame our aspirations, spread our hopes over a decade and wait demurely for the critical updating that will make successes of diplomas and the raising of the education-leaving age. I doubt there is much support out there for another long era of mediocrity and slumped expectations.

We know there are funding pressures across the public sector and a grave need for better hospitals and schools. But, imagine if we went for it. Imagine if that queue of valuable FE projects - the product of so much energy and expenditure already - were to be swiftly approved right now with a mix of funding initiatives over a slightly longer time frame.

Picture a galvanised FE sector able to punch its weight and help us fight our way clear of this and the next recession. In that slim hope lies the excitement; there really are better times ahead. It is a question of choosing for how long we postpone them.

Dame Ruth Silver, Principal, Lewisham College, south-east London.

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