Dearing unheeded

August 20, 2009

Further education colleges are not new players in undergraduate education and only journalists have dubbed them "new polytechnics" ("Degrees of freedom", 13 August).

However, it was the Dearing inquiry in 1997 that rediscovered the contribution they make to higher education and recommended a special mission for them. Lord Dearing wanted them to take the bulk of future growth at levels below the bachelor degree. To avoid franchising and academic drift, they would be funded by Hefce and their higher education ambitions controlled.

None of this happened. Indeed, most colleges were asked to do the opposite: to collaborate with universities (especially for indirect funding) and to compete with them for students. These are not conditions that favour coherence, stability and sustainability, as Lord Dearing recognised.

Gareth Parry, Professor of education, University of Sheffield.

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