Colleges struggle to meet New Deal training demands

March 5, 1999

Further education colleges are struggling to meet the demands of chancellor Gordon Brown's vision of a "high-skill economy", researchers claimed this week.

Many colleges have been unable to adjust their timetables and curriculums to accommodate the intensive training required for people opting for full-time education under the New Deal.

Dan Finn, a senior research fellow at Portsmouth University and a member of the New Deal advisory group, told a pre-budget conference organised by the Trades Union Congress that there was concern that New Deal students would end up in a training cul-de-sac.

Some had been slotted into existing training programmes rather than placed on courses tailor-made for New Deal students, such as that provided by Liverpool Hope College, Finn said.

Colleges that are used to running courses with about 20 hours of scheduled teaching time are finding it hard to provide the 30 hours of teaching required under the New Deal.

This is causing problems because many more people are choosing full-time education rather than the other New Deal options of taking subsidised or voluntary sector jobs. The latest figures show that more than half are opting for education, compared with government forecasts of up to 30 per cent.

Despite the problems, the chancellor is expected to reaffirm the government's commitment to the New Deal as a means of getting people off benefit and into worthwhile work.

The other key educational theme in the budget is expected to focus on new tax incentives to encourage research and development by small and medium-sized enterprises, a sector that is now being courted by universities nationwide.

But few experts see any hope of more money for the higher education sector in the near future, beyond that already announced.

Nick Barr of the London School of Economics suggests that the government must concentrate on supporting the private sector and students and their parents to invest more in education, rather than raiding the public purse to help universities or students.

"Tax-payers' money should go into other parts of the education service, and more money for higher education should come from private resources," Barr said.

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