Time for an end to inequity of funding
Further education suffers because of prevailing British attitudes. Not only does there remain a very carefully calibrated hierarchy of worthwhile achievement, which has clearly established routes and which privileges academic success well above any other accomplishment, but there is also an appalling ignorance among decision-makers and opinion-formers about what goes on in further education. It is so alien to their experience.
It is further education which has invariably given second chances to those who were forced by necessity to make unfulfilling choices. It said "try again" to those who were labelled as failures and who had decided education was not for the likes of them.
It is because the achievements in further education are so rarely lauded that we have failed to recognise further education's potential as a vital engine not only of economic renewal but of social cohesion.
Growth has indeed taken place at an impressive pace and it is to the credit of colleges and other providers that they rose to the challenge which was set.
Many colleges have relished their autonomy, and have proved they can be entrepreneurial in the running of colleges and inventive in their pursuit of new students. There has been a significant increase in efficiency. However, there is also growing disquiet that the new ethos has encouraged colleges not just to be businesslike but to perform as if they were businesses.
Since funding has been related to to successful outcomes, namely qualifications attained by students, there has been a tendency for too many colleges to go in pursuit of the students who are most likely to succeed. There has been growth, but the students recruited have not come from a sufficiently wide cross-section of the community.
Attracting and keeping those for whom learning is a daunting experience is hard work and financially unrewarding. The effort and resources required to support such students on courses receives insufficient recognition in the current funding system.
Our inventiveness should see no limits in creating all kinds of community learning centres which feel right to the user. It should be one of our aims that half of the largest corporations and public-sector employers are equipped with learning resource centres within the next 20 years; 50,000 centres would cover a third of the work force. These centres should be part of the new University for Industry.
The Pathways for Learning, which are recommended, are not yet more qualifications to be showered upon a system already overburdened with them in all shapes and sizes. The Pathways represent a commitment and a quality promise to any learner that a suitable, supported route back into learning will be available. For some, it will be at a basic level; for others, it will mean coming in at a higher level. Many of the latter will have been out of the system for a long time, or will be wary of it and need a different compass to negotiate the terrain.
The ways will be many and varied and colleges will be expected to conjure up their own initiatives in response to the identified needs in their area. One of our key proposals is the establishment of a national network of strategic partnerships to work together in promoting learning amongst a wider public.
Lifelong inclusive learning becomes meaningless rhetoric if money is not available to make such a grand project a reality. And it is a grand project if it is to be real.
There is public consensus that education needs more money and that the quantum has to be increased. But, in the clamour for funds, further education's claims have been sidelined. The education of the nation's children is obviously a foremost consideration. However, serious inequity exists in the financing of post-16 education.
Only a quarter of the five million post-16 learners in England attend universities. Yet two-thirds of the post-school education budget is spent on the universities. Even with the exciting expansion of further and higher education, the children of the working class have not been the real beneficiaries.
Children from my own class background are still not participating: 62 per cent of university students come from social classes one and two, and 1 per cent come from social class five.
Investment in further education is one of the most cost-effective ways of tackling the cumulative effects of learning failure. It is undoubtedly the best way to remedy past deficiencies.
Yet the shocking fact is that support for students is heavily weighted towards those who personally go on to benefit most from their education and whose family circumstances are most favourable to continuing in education. one fifth of the households which have the highest incomes in our country receive more in educational subsidies than those forming either of the bottom two-fifths.
Like the trickle-down theory of economics, there is a trickle-down theory of education which relies upon the notion that concentrating the bulk of educational investment on our top cohorts produces an excellence which permeates the system.
For centuries, this thinking has blighted not just the British economy, but the whole of British life. It demands an urgent reappraisal.
There has to be a redistribution of resources in favour of further education if learning is really to be the engine of economic and social success. This will involve government taking some tough decisions affecting the gold card of funding for full-time higher education. We have to move towards equity of funding for post-16 education.
The higher education sector is facing its own financial hardship, as I know from my role as chancellor of one of the new universities. An injection of money is needed for higher education to maintain high quality and international esteem and this is being addressed by the Dearing review.
Our universities are the best in the world and that pre-eminence must be preserved. What is needed is the same excellence to be pursued on behalf of students in other parts of the firmament.
The Treasury has to find more money for education, and further education has to move up the agenda in making a claim on those funds.
If government is committed to widening participation, it has to be prepared for some financial redistribution. It has to increase the quantum for further education and increase access funds. The ladders linking further education and higher education are extending all the time, and higher education will increasingly be delivered by the further education sector.
This will be an economical way of expanding and encouraging participation in ongoing cumulative learning. But there is a bigger picture.
None of us is oblivious to the problems in finding money, and it is for this reason that we recommend to government a number of innovative strategies. One is the establishment of a Learning Regeneration Fund to operate at regional and subregional levels.
The fund would draw together pockets of money from the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department for Education and Employment, the Single Regeneration Budget, the Funding Councils for Further and Higher Education, European regeneration money and private sector contributions.
It would be drawn upon by the local partnerships to pump-prime projects directed at widening participation in learning.
The second initiative involves lottery funds. If ever there was a use to which lottery money should be put this is it - the creation of a fund for widening participation in education, by harnessing new technology and drawing in those who have never participated before.
One-fifth of the lottery profits are currently taken up by millennium projects. As we enter the new century, this allocation will become available for other uses. We propose that the money is captured for the launch of a government campaign called Learning into the New Millennium with the creation of a Learning Nation Fund.
The very people who spend most money on the lottery would be those who benefited. The justice of the case is overwhelming.
It was also clear to the committee that the Further Education Funding Council has to create financial incentives to enable colleges to expand their missions.
The further education world has to set its priorities with widening participation at its heart. In a system based upon units, the student who is at present excluded has to be unit-rich if providers are to respond.
Levers which exist within the current funding methodology can readily be used to move this work from the margins to the mainstream of funding. The benefits system also cries out for reform. It is ridiculous that a system of social security should inhibit rather than facilitate learning as a progression to work.
A government that is committed to initiating a welfare to work programme should also introduce a welfare to learning programme.
My recent journeys in the world of further education have provided me with a thousand and one histories of changed lives.
As with most good stories, they usually describe the conquering of fear, a battle against odds, the discovery of self, as well as the acquisition of skills and knowledge.
Some are about the precious acquisition of basic literacy, others about studying to degree level using the ladders provided by further education. The variables are countless but the excitement of success is infectious. For those involved in education these accounts are happily familiar.
* Launch government campaign, Learning into the New Millennium: the creation of a learning nation.
* Dedicate lottery funding to launch Learning into the New Millennium.
* Prioritise widening participation in the post-16 education agenda.
* Redistribute public resources towards those with less success in earlier learning, moving towards equity of funding post-16.
* Establish a lifetime entitlement to education up to level 3 (A-level equivalent), which is free for young people and those who are socially and economically deprived.
* Create a national network of strategic partnerships to identify local need, stimulate demand, respond creatively and promote learning.
* Encourage employers to provide learning centres linked to the University for Industry. Large firms would have to have their own, small firms would need to work together or with larger firms.
* Reform the FEFC funding mechanism to recognise levels of previous achievement and social and economic deprivation.
* Create an expanded local authority Access and Childcare Fund.
* Harness new technology for learning.
* Have a credit accumulation system running within five years.
* Create new Pathways to Learning - a unitised system for recognising achievement.
* Take learning to the learner.
* Reform financial support to students, including the benefit system in the interests of equity and promoting Welfare to Work through learning.
* Launch a Charter for Learning.
* Create a Learning Regeneration Fund at regional and sub-regional levels.
* Establish a legal duty upon television to educate.
* Set new national learning targets and local targets for participation.
"The inequity of the current arrangements is the most compelling reason for change.Those who have already succeeded are now most likely to take part infurther learning.
The principle of equity should apply across all post-16 fundingI all students and providers should be entitled to a fair share of funding based on common principles."
"We are not starting from scratch when we aim to widen participation. The knowledge and expertiseto widen participation already exist. There is much exciting and innovative practice throughout post-16 learning. What is lacking is a systematic policy to bring a wider spectrum of the population into learning. If equity is to prevail we must remove the element of luck in whether the needs of a prospective learner are met or not."
NEW PATHWAY TO LEARNING
"Each person will havean individual learning programme, accessing the qualifications they want, at the levels they need, from a menu, and explicitly building in the skills they require to continue learning. At the heart of the pathway will be a planned programme of learning support, accredited so that its learning outcomes are recognised. From the pathway learners should be able to move on to a wide range of further learning opportunities."
"Access to good provision is a lottery for under-represented learners. By no means all providers have adopted strategies to remove barriers to learning. Where you live becomes a very important factorin whether you will be able to participate in education and training."