New year wishes... John Akker

December 29, 1995

My education policy goal for 1996 is a vibrant high quality service with a genuine commitment to expanding access. The restoration of a partnership to achieve this should be the theme for all. Without this the system will continue to be vulnerable to the short-sightedness most recently evident through the Chancellor's budget decisions. The needs of the nation together with those of students have been dealt a devastating blow by the budget. No amount of quality assurance will be able to guarantee education quality when the cuts are so severe.

The response by many institutions to underfunding will be to increase student ratios and make swingeing cuts in staffing levels. Students' grants will decrease by 9 per cent next year and access funds are frozen for the next three. The drop-out rate therefore looks like it will continue to dramatically increase. Without student support, thousands of students will be unable to participate in further education.

An end to the dispute in further education over lecturers' conditions of service in those remaining colleges which have not reached a deal with lecturers' union Natfhe, is essential. Over 50 per cent of lecturers are covered by negotiated agreements protecting workload and quality. Lecturers have worked hard to teach more students and deliver a wider variety of qualifications. In old universities the retention of national bargaining is essential and in the new ones the retention of national conditions. The merger of the Association For Colleges and the Colleges' Employers' Forum would be a boost which would have a significance far beyond that of a merger of two rival bodies. It would signal a new determination by the sector that it would wish to be heard on equal terms with universities and schools.

The coming year will provide the opportunity to campaign for the type of education system that can be delivered with proper resources and management of the system.

John Akker is general secretary of lecturers' union Natfhe.

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