Further education's second biggest subject area, business, is facing a recruitment crisis as facilities and staff training fall behind industry needs, inspectors have found.
The number of full-time business students in FE colleges dropped by 13 per cent in the four years to 1998-99. In the same period, the overall number of FEstudents rose by 1 per cent. Business students now account for 13 per cent of all full-time students and more than a quarter of part-timers.
A report from the Further Education Funding Council says the dwindling recruitment levels are set against a growth industry that is forecast to show the fastest increase in employment over the next seven years.
While the quality of teaching on business courses has improved since the last survey, standards of provision and facilities have fallen. Inspectors found a reduction in the number of college-based activities designed to provide students with experience of a realistic work environment. In some colleges, students had little contact with employers and no practical facilities.
The proportion of business provision judged by inspectors to be good or outstanding declined in the two years to 1998-99 from 74 per cent to 63 per cent, yet many colleges overestimated the quality of their provision.
The report says: "Colleges need to make a more realistic assessment of provision in the light of identified weaknesses in teaching and learning, students' achievements and levels of retention."
Inspectors said "major" weaknesses already identified in updating the industrial and commercial experience of lecturers had not been addressed either by business departments or college senior managers.