Thumbs up for Cable, but reform confusion reigns

14th May 2010 at 01:00
Coalition's new Business Secretary may have to scrap Skills Funding Agency and raid Train to Gain

Further education held its breath this week as it waited to find out whether the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government will press ahead with radical plans to reform the sector.

The appointment of Vince Cable as secretary of state for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) was welcomed in FE. But, as FE Focus went to press, speculation was rife over the future arrangements for funding further education and skills.

Both the Tories and the Lib Dems favour standalone funding councils for FE, increasing the likelihood that the Skills Funding Agency, created on April 1 and answerable to BIS, would be scrapped.

The Conservatives want a Further Education Funding Council, while the Lib Dems are calling for a combined Council for Adult Skills and Higher Education.

Learning providers are hoping that the Conservatives will see through pre- election pledges to give FE providers more freedom to deliver education and skills in response to local and regional circumstances with minimal interference from any new funding council.

Many in FE also think that colleges and universities, currently under the aegis of BIS, might be reunited with schools in secretary of state Michael Gove's renamed Department for Education, which replaces the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

A question mark hangs over the future of the Young People's Learning Agency, run by Mr Gove's department, given the Government's intention to press ahead with cuts of pound;6 billion to non-frontline services.

The billion-pound Train to Gain budget is almost certain to be raided, with part of it diverted to pay for up to 100,000 new apprenticeships a year. But whether the money will be found in the emergency budget, promised within the next 50 days, to realise the Lib Dems' aim of equalising 14-19 funding for schools and colleges, remains to be seen.

Welcoming the new Government, Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "Colleges are central to the social and economic aspirations of this Government."

A statement from the Association of Learning Providers (ALP) called for serious thought on how to help a "lost generation" of 16 to 24-year-olds, but warned against a move away from a demand-led education and training system.

Frank McLoughlin, chair of the 157 Group of colleges, called on the Government to honour pre-election pledges not to cut frontline services, but said: "The funding mechanism for the sector has become increasingly complex and fragmented."

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: "We hope the new government will bring education back into one department so we can have some joined-up thinking and genuine attempts at lifelong learning policies."

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