Colleges should be given the freedom to design their own vocational qualifications as part of a radical review of the nature and purpose of further education that is needed to meet the government's economic agenda, further education policy advisers said this week.
The Learning and Skills Development Agency says in a report launched at the agency's summer conference this week that colleges need to do more to meet local training needs. It states that these problems can be resolved only if the qualifications system is both decentralised and broken down into smaller units.
Colleges, employers and other providers should be allowed to design and accredit their own courses to satisfy local employers and employees who may not want training that leads to full, centrally devised qualifications, the LSDA says.
The report, A Basis for Skills , pulls together six years of research and policy thinking on further education.
Its key messages straddle an apparent divide between the government and college leaders over the economic role of further education and its relationship with employers.
On one hand, the LSDA agrees with ministers that colleges are not yet doing enough to meet the training needs of local business and industry.
But it also agrees with the Association of Colleges thatcolleges' economic role is often overlooked and their efforts to help employers are seriously hampered by an inflexible and bureaucratic national qualifications system.
Research by the LSDA has found that the take-up of vocational qualifications outside of the current national framework outstrips the take-up within it - illustrating dissatisfaction with the present structure.
Chris Hughes, LSDA chief executive, said there still needed to be a national system of kite-marking, licensing and defining qualification levels and titles. But beyond that, the design of programmes should be devolved to local level.
He said: "Enhancement of the current arrangements will not be sufficient to create a long-term solution.
"The qualifications system needs to be both national, to provide the quality kitemark,and local, to accommodate the flexibility and speed of response required in a fast-changing world.
"The vision of high-quality vocational learning that is flexible and responsive to employers' needs will be achieved only by a radical review of the nature and purpose of the further education sector."
The definition of the new performance measures for colleges on their "employer engagement" is due to be announced in the skills white paper later this month.