The Learning and Skills Council will work well with the higher education sector to expand opportunities, says John Harwood
The Learning and Skills Council brings together for the first time the whole of post-16 education and training (up to higher education) into a single coherent planning and funding system, focusing on skills and employer needs at national, regional and local levels. The council will be a large non-departmental public body, with 47 local arms and a budget of about £6 billion serving 6 million learners. Its remit ranges from basic skills to higher level skills, and it covers further education, work-based training for young people, and adult and community education.
The LSC will have the key responsibility to plan, fund, monitor and improve the quality of post-16 learning - building on the close links that are developing between the post-16 and higher education sectors. The council will also be able to bring a much sharper strategic perspective to lifelong learning arrangements.
Further education colleges have a crucial role to play in the arrangements. The Further Education Funding Council has done an excellent job since 1992 in helping colleges establish themselves as often high-quality providers of education and training in their local communities. The LSC will build on this inheritance by bringing training and other adult learning within its scope. For colleges and other training providers, this will mean much greater coherence in local planning and funding. There will be a common national funding and planning system for the first time across all post-16 education and training. From April 2002, this will include the funding of school sixth-forms as well.
Through its remit to ensure that all young people have access to and are funded for their education and training, the LSC will help colleges provide 16 to 19-year-olds with the breadth of learning and the encouragement they need to enter and succeed at university.
Through its strong focus on literacy and numeracy, the council will help colleges reduce the number of adults without basic skills. And through its mission to raise skills levels around the country, it will help colleges continue to provide the technical and vocational training that will make individuals more employable and the economy more productive.
These will be great challenges for the LSC. We will only achieve them if all of us - colleges, training providers and all other partners, including universities - work together to help raise the levels of achievement and create a genuine learning society.
Higher education, although outside the council's remit, is an integral part of the wider post-16 agenda. Already, one in three young people enters higher education, and the government wants to raise the number of people progressing into higher education by increasing the choice of high-quality routes.
Much of the rationale for setting up the LSC also applies to the expansion of higher education. This shared agenda includes raising aspirations, promoting higher standards, better meeting the needs of employers and widening access. Universities have a national and increasingly international perspective. But they also play key roles in their local community.
There needs to be a strategic relationship between universities and their local learning and skills council. The introduction of foundation degrees further emphasises this need, as colleges will deliver much of that provision, which will be funded by the Higher Education Funding Council. These high-level vocational higher education programmes will bring many able people in the local workforce into higher education, as employers increasingly look to this new provision to supply high-level technical and associate professional skills.
The LSC will develop a strong and productive relationship with the higher education sector, and the appointments we have announced so far, at national and local level, have included individuals with a strong interest in and experience of higher education. The national council will also invite Sir Brian Fender, chief executive of the Hefce, to its meetings, and the Further and Higher Education Act is being amended to ensure that the LSC, like the FEFC now, can work with Hefce where this will help it carry out its functions more effectively.
The new arrangements will also provide scope for greater collaboration and sharing of facilities between universities, colleges and adult continuing education. The council will also advise government on the post-16 national learning targets, and Hefce will be a key partner in the drive to achieve the level 4 target.
My national colleagues and I are looking to work closely with Hefce. There has already been important collaborative work between further and higher education at the delivery level, and further development is a priority.
John Harwood is chief executive, Learning and Skills Council.