Popularity of HE a threat to FE colleges, says report

Funding crisis could spell the end for colleges, claims Alison Wolf study

June 24, 2015

Further education colleges are at risk of “vanishing into history” because of the expansion of the university sector, according to a new report.

According to "Heading for the precipice: can further and higher education funding policies be sustained?", an ever-expanding gulf between FE and university funding will push more students into the university sector, driving technical education out of the FE colleges that, the report says, might be more suited to delivering it.

This could result in the destruction of the college-based part of the education system, and cripple the provision of employer-facing education, the report concludes. It would also place unsustainable demands on the higher education budget, potentially threatening quality, the report warns.

Published by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, the report is authored by Alison Wolf, who developed the previous coalition government’s vocational education plans.

“We should all be extremely concerned about our increasingly inefficient and inegalitarian system of funding post-19 education,” Professor Wolf said. “Our future productivity and prosperity are at risk if we don’t address the ongoing erosion of provision outside the universities.”

The report concludes that the current post-19 education funding system is “unstable, inefficient, untenable and unjust”, and is destroying non-university education. The removal of the student number cap for universities will lead to an increase in the proportion of domestic students choosing higher education over further education, it adds.

Nigel Thomas, director of education and skills at the Gatsby Foundation, which helped fund the research, said: “Professor Wolf’s report lays bare the failures of the current system of FE and HE funding and how these threaten the provision of technician-level training. Technicians are critical to our economy but our skills system is not producing them in anywhere near sufficient numbers.”

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Reader's comments (1)

The emerging Tech and General Vocational A levels and proposal for a CNAA type body to accredit providers in particular could be valuable in driving up performance standards and regularising the curriculum, especially when integrated with Apprenticeship training. Thus maybe new opportunities here for a more flourishing FE sector, but sufficient co-funding from an SME sector traditionally unable to heavily invest in technology and training remains an intractable issue though.

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