College employers and students this week backed Liberal Democrat calls for more further education cash amid fears that the government will fail to deliver its lifelong learning agenda.
The head of the Association of Colleges and the president of the National Union of Students supported the attack on the government's funding policy launched by Liberal Democrat further and higher education spokesman Phil Willis at the party's conference in Brighton on Tuesday.
At a fringe meeting hosted by the AoC and attended by NUS leaders, Mr Willis said: "I do not believe that the government will deliver on a lifelong learning agenda becauseI I do not believe the government is prepared to be visionary, to be adventurous, on the principal issues of structure, resource and student support."
Mr Willis attacked the "plethora" of further education funding bodies, describing the government's approach to further education a "charter for bureaucrats" rather than students. He called for a strategic regional framework for planning and commissioning education up to, but not including, higher education level.
He also attacked the "derisory" Pounds 150 state contribution to each student's individual learning account. He said college students should have access to income-contingent loans and that tuition fees for undergraduates should be scrapped. Lecturers in further and higher education were often grossly underpaid, he added.
The AoC's acting chief executive, Sue Dutton, said that she was anxious to know how much money would come to colleges between 2000 and 2002. She said that extra resources were necessary if, as the government has stated, colleges are expected to absorb an additional 430,000 extra students over the next three years.
"If the government wants to achieve the volume changes implicit in the learning age, it needs seriously to reflect on the allocations of funding across post-16 education," she said.
"These extra students are people who would not consider going to further education in the first place and will not be found by extending the current infrastructure. It will cost colleges more to attract these people."
Ms Dutton also highlighted the plight of further education students. She said that financial support for many depends on which local authority they live in.
NUS president Andrew Pakes said: "The government must be having a bit of a joke if it thinks it can provide lifelong learning without providing more resources for further education students."
At an earlier fringe meeting, held jointly by the Association of University Teachers and lecturers' union Natfhe, Richard Pearson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies, said higher education should expand using private, not public, money. He said that expansion of intermediate-level education and training of the sort carried out in colleges was more important than more expansion of higher education.