Thursday, 27 November 2014

Led by the nose

The FE Commissioner, Dr David Collins has recently reported on FE, not just those (the tiny 6%) who were Inadequate through finances or Ofsted, but on a number of other issues.

He warns that “Further education colleges will have to join forces with neighbouring education and training providers to protect expensive courses such as science and engineeringand Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said  … "Looking forward, the Commissioner is right to warn of the impact spending cuts are having in narrowing colleges’ curriculum and to raise a concern that more expensive courses, such as engineering, may not be sustainable in the future”

Dr Collins also said: “I can see why they are encouraging overseas students to come to their colleges, but I can’t honestly see why colleges should be setting up campuses in other countries. It shouldn’t divert you from your core business. If you are putting a significant amount of money into a venture you have got to be absolutely certain you are going to get top return and it’s not going to divert you from what’s going on back at the ranch. It’s difficult enough without having something that takes your eyes off the ball.”

Today, we hear that “the number of over-19s in further education fell 10.7% between 2012-13 and 2013-14” whilst “NIACE says the figures, published by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, suggest an overall fall of 27.9% in the number of people aged 25 and over on these courses. Level four courses, which are pitched at degree level, were particularly badly hit with 34.2% fewer over-25s taking them in 2013-14 than the previous year, says the charity.”

FE can no longer afford to educate these adults, the adults won’t take out loans. How is our future workforce supposed to be developed? How long will it be before UTC’s expand their business to take on the lost 19+, or a ‘new’ provision is developed for them?
Yet this year an FE college spent £93,742 to 'rebrand' itself. Did it improve teaching, learning and student outcomes?
In the Guardian, the champion of UTC’s said Baker says. "After about 10 years, there will probably be 200 to 300." At the minimum, the initial costs will be £3m each.

 And in FE Week, Lord Adonis for the Labour Party and supported by Policy Network, will argue that the next government should “establish at least 100 University Technical Colleges by 2020 focused on growth areas of the economy.

 There are some simple (some may say too simple) conclusions to be drawn from this:

  • Money that Governments should be investing in FE is being diverted into UTC’s
  • FE is struggling financially and will be forced through financial penalties to stop delivering ‘expensive courses’ such as Engineering and become ‘smaller’
  • FE may have compromised its own future by investing abroad and dropping core provision when they should be concentrating on their core market; the UK, our learners and our futures

The 200 or 300 UTC’s at a now conservative estimate of £10 million (up from £3 million each in 2012) is not just going to blow a bigger hole in FE’s budget, it is our budget. In abandoning the aim to deliver good technical education to meet the country’s and student needs, we have inadvertently shot ourselves in the foot.

The FE that chases overseas markets, shuts down STEM provision and wishes to play with the major business conglomerates may have left it too late to be diverted off the ‘Yellow Brick road of profit’ and whilst some were off ‘on tour’ developing their reputation and not their core educational provision, the competition has crept up behind them and is ready to overtake. They have also opened to gate for all of FE to be tarred with the same brush and replaced by other provision.

 FE should not now be forced into developing UTC’s in partnership with Universities to deliver courses which were once their bread and butter provision. FE should not be in a position of trying to reclaim that which we once owned.

As someone who passionately believes in FE as a force for good and sees so much good practice in the vast majority of FE, I am as saddened as I am angry. FE is too precious to suffer such an ignominious fate.







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