Thanks for free tuition; now give us the funds

What do college principals make of the Government's proposed reforms? Neil Merrick hears their views

By accepting most of Sir Andrew Foster's blueprint for further education in its White Paper, the Government more or less guaranteed itself a favourable response from further education colleges.

But the most popular measure announced by ministers - free education for 19- to 25-year-olds without A-levels - did not emerge from last year's Foster review. Instead, it was pressure from college principals that persuaded the Department for Education and Skills to extend free tuition (currently available for learners trying to gain their first GCSEs) to those studying for level 3 qualifications.

Pat Bacon, principal of St Helens College, was among a group that lobbied Bill Rammell, the minister for higher education and lifelong learning, when the Government launched its adult fees policy last autumn.

Bacon has concerns about how the level 3 entitlement will be funded, but she is pleased that more adults will get another chance. "There are still a lot of people in this area who don't progress at 16 and still have some way to go," she says.

The DfES is promising £25m from 2007/08 to compensate colleges for lost fees. But the College of North West London says it already loses out because it no longer charges students on level 2 programmes.

According to principal Vicki Fagg, many fees are paid not by individuals, but by employers. By extending free tuition at a time when colleges are under pressure to raise fee income, the Government risks creating confusion. "We are anxious about the mixed messages going out to employers," Fagg says.

As a sixth-form college, Peter Symonds College in Winchester is less likely to enrol adults on full-time A-level programmes. But the principal, Neil Hopkins, hopes that fees will be waived for higher education access courses, which cost about £1,000 a year.

Hopkins also welcomes plans to give sixth-form colleges the opportunity to become centres of excellence without needing to demonstrate expertise in a particular vocational subject, in the same way as larger FE colleges.

Some large colleges are centres of vocational excellence (CoVE ) in as many as five subjects. "We have had great difficulty achieving CoVE status, because it's a relatively small part of our business," Hopkins says. "Whenever we tried to go for it, we were told to mind our own business."

Individual learner accounts, scrapped in 2001 after allegations of fraud, are to be piloted again. Ioan Morgan, principal of Warwickshire College, says many colleges saw higher enrolments last time. "They were a good idea that was poorly implemented. Once there is tighter control and better administration, it will be successful."

Morgan, part of a principals' group consulted by ministers before the White Paper, believes the package of measures should enhance the reputation of FE. "We have been given a defined focus, which is skills for employment," he says.

But, like other principals, he is concerned at the impact of higher fees for adult courses that fall outside the Government's priorities. These are already rising and will virtually double by 2010, when learners will be expected to pay half the cost of tuition. "We have to stick in with our community," Morgan says. Pat Bacon says it is ironic that, after community-based learning was celebrated in the Foster report, adult courses in St Helens and elsewhere are being cut. "We don't want finance to be a barrier to learning," she adds.

An extra £11m is to be spent on training for lecturers and other staff, who will participate in exchanges with experts from various industry sectors. Ian Pryce, principal of Bedford College and a qualified accountant, says: "I'm a big advocate of bringing people in from outside the sector."

But Pryce believes the jury is still out on the Government's latest quango, the Quality Improvement Agency, which was launched yesterday to raise standards and deliver the DfES's quality improvement strategy. "Self-regulation is about taking responsibility for your own quality," he says.

There is also a feeling that it was unnecessary to give the Learning and Skills Council powers to replace college principals and governors with alternative managers, including private firms, when Ofsted says just 2 per cent of colleges are inadequate. "The proportion of colleges that are failing is minute," says Vicki Fagg. "I'm doubtful that the introduction of private providers will necessarily lead to better quality."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Graduate Java / C++ Developer

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Graduate Java / C++ ...

Reception Teacher

£21588 - £31552 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: YEAR 1 TEACHER - FUL...

Reception Teacher

£21588 - £31552 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: YEAR 1 TEACHER - FUL...

Year 1 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Ofsted have said "Good te...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor