Welcome debate on funding

16th March 2007 at 00:00

The use of the term "demand led" to describe the way colleges are funded is perhaps symptomatic of the bastardisation of the English language by public administrators. Any normal person, unless they are familiar with the peculiar lexicon of the state, could be forgiven for assuming this had something to do with giving students what they ask for.

They would, of course, be entirely wrong.

Demand led means demand from employers - not the thousands of students who arrive at college every day. Until very recently - this week, in fact - anyone who suggested that students should be in the driving seat would have been dismissed as naive or even cynical. Now, all that has changed as the think tank IPPR starts a much-needed debate about who colleges should really be accountable to (see page 1).

One of IPPR's most respected voices, Richard Brooks, has said that colleges should indeed be responding more to students. He suggests that allowing employers to have the last word on what colleges provide has never been proved to work.

He cites the NHS - where there has been a massive over-supply of doctors - as an example of centralised planning being ineffective. If the state can't even predict its own needs as an employer, how can it possibly plan on behalf of private sector organisations which exist in a much less stable environment than the NHS?

Employers need to be consulted, as do students, and demand-led planning - even if it means putting employers first - may yet be the right way. But IPPR has done us all a favour by raising a fundamental question and elevating opponents of the current system above the status of naive observers.

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