Right of Reply

The chief executive of the Association of Colleges replies to Judith Cutler's article on fraud in higher education
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THIS WEEK is Adult Learners' Week. There are now more adults in formal education and training than ever, and by far the largest number of these, about 3.5 million, are studying in the more than 450 colleges of further education and sixth form colleges in England and Wales.

Many of these very people will be readers of The Independent, as amazed as I was to read your article, "Fraud and scandal in further education" last week. We might be forgiven for believing colleges to be unmanaged and unmanageable, run by crooks bleeding their institutions and their students dry.

The accurate facts are these. Colleges of further education and sixth form colleges are generally exceptionally well managed.

Nolan gave them a clean bill of health, and they have succeeded since they left local authority control in 1993 in delivering massive increases in the quantity and quality of their services to their local communities, against year-on-year cuts by the previous government which would have tested any private sector business to the limit.

They now serve 1.5 million more students than 10 years ago, within stringent quality demands, but nevertheless, the Funding Council's inspectorate has judged that 97 per cent of lessons are sound.

Colleges have had to make huge changes to bring this about. Until the new Government stepped in, many were in serious financial stress, without moneys for new buildings or equipment or to meet pay rises. Equally, our students, unlike those in higher education, were (and continue to be) without the level of financial support which we have always believed they deserve, particularly since 25 per cent of them come from the 15 per cent most deprived wards in England and Wales. Less than 2 per cent of colleges have run into difficulties.

To my mind, the story of how the rest have succeeded against the odds is amazing. That truth really is stranger than your fiction.