Promise to tackle student hardship
She told college principals that ministers would wait for Sir Ron Dearing's recommendations on student support for higher education but expected to apply his plans to further and adult education.
She said: "I'm very aware of the problems many students have in FE. The biggest tragedy that can happen to a young person is that they have got to give up the course because they cannot afford it.
"People, old or young, should not have to leave because they can't afford to continue study."
She also proposed wide-ranging measures to meet colleges' key concerns.
Baroness Blackstone made plain her commitment to wider student support as she answered questions from principals at the Association of Principals of Colleges conference in Bristol.
She promised to examine discrepancies between teachers' and lecturers' pay and to investigate ways of funding the FE staff awards. "Where there are disparities of this sort beginning to develop something needs to be done and I will take this up with the funding council," she said.
She promised full consultation with colleges, proposing a series of informal summits with principals. "I hope from time to time we can get together - not beer and sandwiches but over a glass of fizzy water or a coffee at the department."
Principals praised her words and her openness. Steve Broomhead, president of the Association of College Management, said the performance was "breathtaking".
* Lecturers and managers in colleges were offered a flat rate 2.5 per cent pay rise this week.
Talks were held between the lecturers' union NATFHE, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the Association of College Management and Association of Colleges' negotiators.
The offer, which matches last year's national recommendation, raises the prospect of further local disruption in colleges. Principals say cuts will make it difficult to cope with even a small increase FE Review, page 31