There is a myth - so ingrained in the minds of journalists and policy-makers that it is taken for fact - that the Government aims to get 50 per cent of all school-leavers into university. It has fuelled debates among the chattering classes and seen a pound;2 billion boost for universities.
In truth, the policy is to give half of all 18 to 30-year-olds experience of higher education by 2010. This is a very different proposition and one that is achievable through more apprenticeships, expansion of further education and better workplace training.
That is exactly where new cash should go - and it is a pity this was not given more consideration during the passage of the recent Higher Education Bill through Parliament. This TES special report, supported by the Association of Learning Providers, shows some remarkable successes among those who have chosen the non-university route. But it also reveals a fragile system in which great efforts must be made to recover real career prospects for those who have not been well served by compulsory education.
Independent training providers often pick up those at the societal margins - people who are fresh out of prison, on the streets after a life in care, or lost as new arrivals to the UK with refugee status. In recent years, initiatives have emerged to rescue the disadvantaged and disaffected - from the New Deal to Entry to Employment (E2E) and Skills for Life.
The best of them show how providers can lift young adults from no hope to real aspiration and higher educational achievement. Often, providers are working in partnership with colleges and local industry. Indeed, these providers include a number of colleges, charities and not-for-profit organisations. But they have had a raw deal compared with most colleges, to which the Government has striven to give greater financial stability. It is a point which adult skills minister Ivan Lewis accepts (page 9).
A national survey for this special report shows that the training providers have enormous scope to help meet the nation's skills shortfall (pages10-11).
There will be no cornucopia to lift the fortunes of such organisations - nor do they expect one, as Graham Hoyle, chief executive of the Association of Learning Providers, points out (page 7). But they do bring different talents to the learning and skills market.
Commissioning editor: Jill Parkin
Production: Al Constantine
Design: Margaret Donegan
Picture research: Frances Topp
The contents of this magazine are the responsibility of The TES, not the Association of Learning Providers.