Lib-Dems rethink policies

October 10, 1997

LIBERAL Democrats are to recast their post-compulsory education policy, with strong indications that the model provided by Helena Kennedy QC's report on further education will be more influential than Sir Ron Dearing's inquiry into higher education.

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat MP for Harrogate and frontbench spokesman on further and higher education, said last week: "We will be revisiting the whole of our policy on the tertiary sector in order to produce a comprehensive programme of educational provision from 16 to 90."

He said the policy needed reworking to come to terms with the changing landscape.

A coherent vision had yet to emerge from the two parallel reports.

Mr Willis said: "I believe that Dearing does not provide the breadth of vision we need to go into the next millennium. The great flaw of Dearing is that he was appointed to get the last government off the hook over funding, and got bogged down in that rather than asking what sort of education do we need to provide post-16 to meet people's needs in the 21st century. It does not really dovetail with Kennedy, which I think shows much greater vision in terms of those needs."

Mr Willis said he wanted to see the new policy developed before the post-Dearing debate and the white paper hits the floor of the Commons and "the debate locks into a mindset.

"We have to find a coherent alternative to the 1960s model for higher education. We know the present structures cannot be sustained if we are to reach a participation rate of 50 per cent or more."

Mr Willis and his advisers, who will be working with the main Liberal Democrat education spokesman Don Foster, hope to start debate among party activists at their local government conference at Stoke Rochford this month.

He expects to unveil some aspects of the new policy when he speaks to the Association of Colleges conference in his Harrogate constituency between November 11 to 13.

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