It cuts both ways

April 28, 2000

Your editorial ("There is still time to mend a flawed government bill", THES, April 21) confused two issues: the importance of higher education in the government's post-16 agenda and legal changes.

The government is in no doubt about the key role higher education must play in post-16 reforms. That is why the new Learning and Skills Council will have powers to fund certain forms of higher education, not least because it offers a route for those completing further education and work-based training.

It will be crucial for the LSC and the Higher Education Funding Council to work closely together. That is why Hefce's chief executive will have a place at LSC meetings and why we will be amending legislation to enable the two councils to carry out their functions jointly where that makes sense.

The two will join together in providing authoritative advice on skills supply and demand through the advisory group on skills information. HE institutions are already involved in some 62 per cent of local learning partnerships with further education institutions. We want to see that involvement grow as part of our post-16 reforms to expand the opportunities available for 16 to 18-year-old students.

But none of this requires action in the bill. That is the simple point I was making in the debate in committee. The THES would, I suspect, be the first to complain if we changed the law unnecessarily simply to make a point. It is The THES, not the government that is trying to have it both ways.

Malcolm Wicks Minister for lifelong learning

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