New book on college scandals

February 11, 2000

The vast majority of the scandals that have so badly damaged the college sector were caused by government policy and a flawed funding methodology, a new book will claim.

"Most of the reasons why colleges have appeared in The THES Whistleblowers column and in Private Eye are not their fault," said Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Liverpool, author of the book with his codirector, Pamela Robinson.

"Many of them were just responding to the rules of the game. But the rules were not sufficiently thought through."

Further Education Re-Formed examines the "odd" development of the sector since colleges were removed from local authority control in 1993.

Professor Smithers said the way the sector has evolved, driven by funding, offers important lessons to the government, which is currently consulting over a new funding methodology for the Pounds 6 billion Learning and Skills Council.

"Colleges have done all sorts of odd things since," he said. The government at the time was "partly to blame" for demanding "enormous expansion with less funding, telling colleges to be imaginative and entrepreneurial".

The funding methodology created most problems. Small units of funding meant colleges "had to accumulate a very large amount of units and engage in work that produced a return with the least effort," he said.

Combined with a qualifications structure that did not specify course content, this led directly to the boom in franchised provision that is now discredited and discouraged by the government.

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