The government is in danger of ignoring some of the most valuable services provided for employers in further education colleges as it assembles its skills strategy white paper, college heads have warned.
Ministers have accused colleges of failing to engage sufficiently with local employers to meet their training needs. They claim that only 7 per cent of college income is derived from employer contributions to the costs of courses and other support.
But a survey of members of the Association of Colleges shows that colleges provide 200 million days of training a year for companies, compared with 60 million that the Confederation of Industry said employers provided themselves.
The survey, conducted as part of the AoC's "Colleges at the Heart of Business" campaign, also reveals that a third of college income now comes from sources outside the Learning and Skills Council.
It is believed that employers account for a significant proportion of outside income. The survey shows that on average colleges deal with 200 employers a year: some have links with as many as 2,000 different companies.
The AoC was this week hoping to bring this message home to MPs in a Commons debate on further education funding and on the government's forthcoming skills white paper. Its campaign also aims to influence negotiations with the LSC over proposed college performance measures on "employer engagement".
Colleges have been encouraged to invite their local MPs to visit them, urge them to sign an early-day motion on reforms to help colleges work even closer with employers and to attend a reception at Westminster to meet college and employer representatives.
The motion calls for unification of the further education qualifications and funding system to enable employers to pay for staff to attend college for smaller chunks of learning rather than take on courses that lead to full qualifications.
David Gibson, AoC chief executive, said: "We need a more flexible system.
The difficulty comes when an employer knows exactly what they want - but it does not amount to an employee taking a full qualification. The college is not able to deliver the training because it will not get funded. Everyone is left feeling frustrated."
College heads are hoping their campaign will inform the government's drafting of the skills white paper, due to be published in June.
• More than 60 per cent of 16 to 21-year-old Scots took part in full or part-time education in 2000-01, according to the latest Scottish Executive statistics. Some 31 per cent of women in the age group were in higyher education, compared with 26 per cent of men, while 17 per cent of men were in further education, compared with 14 per cent of women.