"Is this a proper use of public funds?" a college principal asked in an anonymous circular this week, referring to a Further Education Funding Council report on Korea's education system. Coming hot on the heels of a Pounds 13,500 FEFC inspection report on Singapore, it has incensed some college leaders.
"Exactly how this report will enable our 450 college principals to improve the lot of the 3.5 million students studying on further education courses in England is unclear," one said.
FEFC inspectors visited Korea in March. In July, after the National Audit Office recommended stricter evaluation for overseas trips, the FEFC advised all college principals and chairmen of corporations in a circular: "Before undertaking foreign travel, college managers should consider the following questions: Is the journey essential? Could the objectives for the journey be achieved by other means? Does the journey offer value for money?" Having previously faced flak for similar inspection reports, the FEFC has stressed that the trips fall under the quality assessment committee's terms of reference. Its remit is primarily to advise the council on the quality of education in institutions it funds. But the terms also give it scope "to advise on other matters as requested from time to time by the council". This includes "keeping abreast of international developments," the FEFC said.
The Korean trip was taken so the council could "report on aspects of the education system that are particularly relevant to the United Kingdom". The 30-page report concludes that "in many respects, the post-16 education system in the Republic of Korea contrasts with the further education system in the UK".