Late principal built business

October 3, 1997

Further education: colleges are fighting funding cuts by expanding links with local business and rural communities

Swindon College is still reeling from the shock of principal Clive Brain's death in the Southall train crash two weeks ago.

Much of the college's philosophy was Mr Brain's own. His emphasis on access and participation, on the community and on business links will continue because it has been so successful.

Between 1994 and 1995 the college increased its full-time students by 11 per cent and its part-time by 136 per cent. All of this on an average level of funding which declined over the period from Pounds 16.32 per unit to Pounds 14.88.

The 100-year-old college is located in a boom town where huge inward investment has wiped out unemployment. There are 1,000 job vacancies in Swindon.

The college, which last year had 40,000 students on its books, has solved financial problems by meeting demand from local employers, many of them national players such as the Nationwide, Allied Dunbar, Honda and Rover. "We are always on the look-out for new business opportunities," says David Saunders, head of marketing at the college.

"Higher education has a different agenda altogether. Their staff have personal as well as corporate careers. We try to find out what our clients want and then offer it to them."

A list of lucrative commercial contracts is reeled off including blue-chip companies as well as smaller local organisations.

A large contract to run a state-of-the-art manufacturing training centre in Bridgend backed by Ford and the Welsh Development Agency is now getting off the ground alongside innovative plans to use the Internet for course delivery.

The college is also tackling hardship in some rural communities with poor transport links.

Eighty outreach centres have been established in village and community halls. Where once local mothers might have taken up basket-weaving, students from all walks of life are pursuing vocational education.

Swindon College gets Pounds 1.4 million from student fees out of a total annual income of Pounds 20 million.

None of its 2,000 full-time students pay fees and the unemployed are exempt from them. Those on low incomes can apply for fee waivers.

Fees vary from a few pounds to Pounds 1,000. All outreach courses are free. Retention rates are more than 90 per cent in the outreach centres, a rate many colleges would envy.

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