Walk the talk in 2007

5th January 2007 at 00:00

This should be the year when things really start to happen for further education. For starters, as we report on pages 1 and 5, the college rebuilding programme has reached a watershed, with the promise of entire new stock across the country by 2014.

With the prisons Green Paper, the FE Bill and Leitch review of skills in the UK, 2006 offered promises. Otherwise, it was a year mired in boring bureaucracy and turgid talk of redesigning qualifications, creating new "quality" systems and quangos, slimming down the Learning and Skills Council and finding different ways for people to work. All talk, no action.

But 2007 should see an end to the university monopoly on degrees, self-governance for colleges and new powers for training companies to compete with colleges when bidding for state cash. Actions with "Gordon Brown" written all over them.

And, with the Chancellor certain to ascend to Tony Blair's throne this summer, Gordon is a man in a hurry. He wants policies firmly in place before seeking the country's early endorsement of his leadership.

There are still hurdles to radical change, though. Universities reacted with predictable self-interest against FE foundation degrees in December, galvanising the Lords against them for the second reading of the FE Bill.

Also, Sir George Sweeney will suggest radical reform to remove regulations on colleges this spring, but since centre-left government loves to control the minutiae, such battles are not won easily.

Meanwhile, college lecturers and managers will feel increasingly schizophrenic. On the one hand, they must collaborate with schools on all matters 14-19. On the other, they must compete with training companies to teach skills to adults. If only life were that simple.

What if colleges find the whole enterprise falling apart at the seams? Well, the LSC will get radical powers in 2007 to remove principals who don't measure up.

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