Leader: Welcome call for clarity

November 18, 2005

Only one message will have reached most of the public from Sir Andrew Foster's report on further education: that a significant (but unspecified) proportion of colleges are failing and should be taken over by private providers. Not surprisingly for a 113-page assessment of an entire sector, the real verdict is much more complex and generally more sympathetic to the colleges. Sir Andrew blames successive governments for giving further education too wide a brief, confusing employers and students while spreading resources too thinly. He suggests that higher education courses are among the distractions, and he advocates a model closer to the American community college.

Whether private companies would even attempt to offer the broad curriculum provided in most further education colleges is doubtful. But Sir Andrew's call for more clarity on the borders of further and higher education makes perfect sense. The Mixed Economy Group is not only capable but essential to the delivery of the Government's foundation degree agenda. These colleges have the local links and the experience of vocational education necessary to deliver new courses and attract students. Others, however, do not have the physical or human resources to provide higher education of acceptable quality and damage the reputation of the sector.

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