Incentive plan to cut college drop-out rate

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COLLEGES will be given financial incentives to keep students on courses in an effort to curb alarming drop-out rates among 16 to 19- year-olds.

John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, yesterday urged the new Further Education Funding Council to tackle the problem of drop-out rates highlighted in a recent report by the Audit Commission and school inspectors. They found that more than a third of 16 to 19-year-olds did not complete their courses successfully.

The message was reinforced by Tim Boswell, the Further and Higher Education minister, who told college principals that there would be financial incentives in the new funding system to retain students. The Government has switched funding from schools into further education where it expects student numbers to expand by 25 per cent but this is threatened by high drop-out rates.

Mr Boswell told the Association for Colleges that the drop-out rate of between 30 and 40 per cent was 'unacceptable. It is a waste of money. It is miserable for the students concerned. They have little or nothing to show for their efforts. Nor has the economy'.

Better advice for students would improve their choice of courses, said Mr Boswell. He also urged colleges to collect data on drop-out rates for each course.

Mr Boswell gave strong hints of support for the limited form of 'payment by results' currently being proposed by the funding council which in April will take over responsibility for further education colleges in England from local authorities.

Under this colleges would receive the bulk of their funding for students who were actually on courses, but there would also be payments for enrolments and for those successfully completing their courses.

The university and college lecturers' union, Natfhe, has threatened industrial action over 'pirate' contracts it says colleges are imposing on new staff as they leave local authority control.