Colleges 'have nothing to fear'

January 30, 1998

Welfare to what? Phil Baty on what the government's New Deal has to offer to colleges and students.

COLLEGES' fears for their future role in the New Deal are misplaced, Andrew Smith, the employment minister responsible for the programme, insisted this week. Mr Smith (pictured below) told The THES he made no apologies for the programme's primary function: employment. "The whole aim of the New Deal is to increase employability," he said.

"But we recognise that full-time education and training can play a very important role in enhancing employability," said Mr Smith. "There is a total of Pounds 700 million of new money for further education to provide the full-time educational pathway and the part-time training options."

The bulk of the education provision would be at NVQ Level 2, equivalent to four or five GCSE passes, he said. "The first aim is to get people to that level. But NVQs at Level 3 (A-level standard) or above will be possible where there is a clear link with job prospects."

The higher education sector will have a lesser role. "The level of study will depend on an individual's need and the links with a job. We wouldn't expect the New Deal to fund people on courses where there are other sources of funds," he said.

"Colleges have taken a lead in the pathfinder areas. This is a great opportunity for them as the programme rolls out nationally in April. Lots of education and training is required and it must be high quality. There is competition from private providers, but colleges have a track record they should make the most of."

Colleges with a high proportion of part-time students claiming Job Seekers' Allowance should not fear losing numbers, said Mr Smith. "Unemployed part-time students within four months of completing their courses will be allowed to complete it under the gateway stage of the New Deal."

Part-timers with more than four months before the end of their course will not always be pushed into a non-education pathway. Mr Smith said: "They will have a personal adviser who will evaluate the contribution of the course to enhancing their employment." Those who stay in education will have an enhanced course "because they will no longer be subject to the 16-hour rule - they will be expected to do 30 hours a week".

"The New Deal is a good deal and good news for the further education sector and the students it serves."

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