Jenny Scribbins, head of South Thames College, said that was her "hunch" for the findings of the FE Funding Council's committee on widening student participation. The committee, due to report early next year, is investigating whether class, gender, ethnicity, poverty or any other barriers prevent people from going to college. Her college had "hundreds of thousands" of black and women students, she said. "Inequality is not about gender or race, but class. I've found that white working-class men are the least likely to return to education later in life."
The FEFC should address this issue by reorganising its funding because it did not cost the same to educate a student in Truro as it did in inner London, she told delegates at the annual conference of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education at Warwick University.
Ms Scribbins looked forward to the outcome of "the administrative nightmare" of the FEFC's individual student record as it would provide colleges with a pool of knowledge about what was really happening to students. "We will be able to compare notes across the country, find out why students drop out, their learning needs and what they've achieved. We should find out which part of our organisations delivers the goods and for whom."
Earlier in the day, James Paice, education and employment junior minister, emphasised the importance of lifetime learning. To the surprise of some listeners, he said: "It is about more than economic opportunity and gain. It is about social and cultural benefits, and quality of life". And he said that, quite apart from fairness, equal opportunities made good economic sense: "Equality of opportunity must be central if we are to achieve the National Targets."
He pointed to the success of the Government's career-development loan scheme which was set up in 1988. More than 75,000 had invested some Pounds 250 million in their training and he wanted to expand it further.
Mr Paice was also keen to encourage employers to join the Investors in People scheme. More than 21,000 organisations were committed to achieving IiP status - nearly one-quarter of the workforce. The national target is for 70 per cent of those employing more than 200 people and 35 per cent of those employing 50 or more to be recognised as investors by the year 2000.