New year wishes... Ruth Gee

December 29, 1995

For too long further education has been stitched-up. Now we must do the stitching. And we can do it by realising the rhetoric of the "seamless robe", for too long a phrase and an inspiration. This means greater parity of esteem between further and higher education, reflected not in a uniformity of approach, but a genuine appreciation and valuing of difference between what we now call the two "sectors".

It is a recognition that what each of the partners brings to the table is distinctive. If as we hope, thanks to Ron Dearing's review, core skills become embedded in all qualifications up to level 3, including A levels, I hope we will decide to integrate transferable skills up to degree level.

This will not mean the introduction of an externally imposed GNVQ level 4, for which a case has yet to be made. But perhaps it will mean kite marking existing qualifications to demonstrate that successful graduates can bring not only academic knowledge but vocational expertise to the world of employment.

Recognising that 70 per cent of the population do not participate in higher education and that supervisory and technician skills are important to economic success, the Government should move to a more equitable method of financing education over the age of 19.

Yes, I would encourage those 18-year-olds with level 3 qualifications to take a gap year before the next step. And I would offer all students over the age of 19 an entitlement to three years' of tuition, paid for by either employers or the state.

This would apply to whatever level of study is undertaken in recognition of he importance of lifelong learning. It would help forge an equal partnership between colleges and universities; encourage market specialisation and afford students genuine incentives to learning. Go to it.

Ruth Gee is chief executive, Association for Colleges.

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