Brum punch

November 14, 1997

The hospitality industry needs more managers. And Birmingham College can serve up the training courses - so long as it gets more cash. Simon Midgley reports

There is a national shortage of supervisors and managers in the hospitality industry that Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies is ideally placed to address, provided more money is forthcoming to help lay on the necessary training.

Ray Linforth, deputy principal of the college, says regional and national surveys indicate there is a shortage of trained administrators in the West Midlands and nationally. Demand from abroad for British-trained supervisors and managers is also strong.

"It would be very sad indeed, and it would be doing the students a great disservice, if there was the opportunity to expand training but the funding and the right levels of funding were not available to enable colleges to provide the best training," he says.

Linforth's college, which dates back to the late 19th century, has an international reputation in the hotel, catering, leisure and tourism training field. It also offers courses in hairdressing, beauty therapy and social care.

It offers qualifications ranging from NVQs in catering, GNVQs in leisure and tourism to HNDs, degrees, and postgraduate degrees in leisure, tourism, food preparation, and consumer and hotel management.

There is an MSc and MAs in hospitality management and tourism business administration.

The college concentrates on serving a narrow vocational spectrum with a broad range of courses. It does not offer A levels or some of the more traditional courses such as construction or engineering which are typical of a generalist further education college.

Students, who have sometimes arrived with basic qualifications, are able to progress through the college's hierarchy of training to leave with a postgraduate degree.

Unusually, for a further education college, 44 per cent of Birmingham's work is higher education and 56 per cent further education. Its annual income of Pounds 15 million comes from both the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Further Education Funding Council.

It has 5,154 full-time equivalent students, of whom 2,739 are full time and 1,256 sandwich-course students. There are 1 full-time equivalent lecturers, 55 part-time lecturers and 103 full-time equivalent support staff.

Fifty-seven per cent of its students are from Birmingham, while the rest are drawn from around the United Kingdom and abroad. Last year there were students from 43 different countries studying at the college.

The college has up to 40 partnerships in countries such as Ecuador, the Maldives and Hong Kong, with organisations keen to train managers in the tourism and hospitality industries.

Unusually for a further education college it also has its own student accommodation - 121 en suite bedrooms - and is building 151 more. The college also has its own city-based nursery for students' children.

Linforth says that Sir Ron Dearing recommended there should be an additional 1,000 students studying in higher education sub-degree programmes, mainly in further education.

"We are ideally placed to respond to that because we already offer a range of some six to seven HND programmes," he says. But he adds that Dearing also said there should be no expansion of degree programmes in further education colleges.

"If we expand our HND courses, and we are not allowed to expand our degree provision, we end up with a situation where students will complete an HND with us but they would have to go somewhere else to complete their degrees. That sounds crazy to me."

The college's degree programmes are also highly vocational, Linforth points out. "If you take our students doing an HND in hotel catering, they spend nearly a year in placements in industry, and in college they practice vocational skills day in, day out," he says.

"We are teaching them the skills that industry is crying out for. To find ourselves in the position where we cannot complete that process by allowing those students to upgrade their HND to a degree with us seems strange.

"We can only hope that the government recognises that we are a special case because we are a highly specialised institution. That is something that we have concerns about and we have lodged those concerns with the FEFC and the HEFC."

The college's higher education programmes are cost-effective, Linforth says. "Our higher education students benefit from using the practical facilities of our further education students, while our further education students benefit from working alongside students on higher education programmes."

As far as expanding further education level student numbers is concerned, he says the college could do so as soon as the FEFC removes its cap on student numbers.

Being a relatively poorly funded college - on a low average level of funding - he adds that the college would be less able to increase course provision from its own resources than other more generously funded colleges.

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