Courses concentrate on serving local businesses: Donald Macleod looks at proposals for a 'breathtaking' expansion of further education with the emphasis geared to vocational training

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The Independent Online
GARETH BROWN handles the wood lovingly in the workshops at Coventry Technical College. In the age of computer-aided design, motor vehicle cylinder heads are still based on wooden patterns and cores made of sand, as metal casts have been since the industrial revolution.

His wooden pattern, which looks like a superior pub ashtray, is to be vacuum moulded in plastic as a practical exercise in industrial design.

Coventry Technical College, where Gareth went after dropping out of a highly theoretical university course, abounds in often unlikely contrasts between old skills and new technology, academic and practical concerns. 'I like the creative side of industry rather than the scientific,' said Gareth, who found that his three A-levels were no use for what he wanted to do.

He is taking a Btec National Diploma, one of the vocationally oriented qualifications that students and their parents are only now beginning to feel comfortable with. Gareth, aged 19, then hopes to go back to university on a more practical automotive design course.

Rebecca Stacey, a Ford trainee, intends to work in the car industry when she completes a year's course at the college. She looked balefully at her metal-cutting machine - 'Not my favourite area' - but was looking forward to the electrical part of the course.

The college has strong links with the motor manufacturing industry in the region, running courses for Rolls-Royce, Rover, Peugeot and Jaguar.

Demand for part-time and day-release engineering and construction courses, which have long been the backbone of the college's work, has suffered in the recession.

On the other hand, there has been a substantial rise in the number of full-time students, whether school-leavers or unemployed.

Coventry Technical College is concentrating on vocational courses catering for the city and the region on which it built its reputation for over a century. Last year the principal resigned after the college ran up a pounds 6m deficit. More than 150 staff lost their jobs.

This shake-out may help the college compete for funds and students in the coming years when the price of courses will be critical.

Janey Rees, the new principal, said engineering and construction would remain major parts of the operation.

Languages, business and administration are also in demand, especially from the service industries which form a large part of the West Midlands economy.

The college also intends to expand its A-level courses in competition with local schools, and its access courses for Warwick and Coventry universities.

(Photograph omitted)