The rapid expansion of franchised further education is damaging quality, college inspectors warned this week.
Colleges' collaborative arrangements with private employers and community organisations suffer from less robust quality assurance and lack clear aims, the report by the Further Education Funding Council's inspectors has found.
The national survey report, Collaborative Provision, comes at a bad time for colleges which rely heavily on franchised courses, and employers who rely on the FEFC public subsidy for training. Last month the commons education and employment committee raised questions about the value-for-money of franchised courses: a key element of its inquiry into further education funding.
Echoing MPs concerns, the FEFC found that colleges lack experience in the management of collaborative provision. "The desire to respond quickly to opportunities for developing provision has militated against careful needs analysis," it said. "Colleges also pay insufficient attention to the analysis of risks associated with collaborative provision."
Introduced in 1994, there are now 280 colleges, 60 per cent of the sector, which franchise teaching to external suppliers. There are 700,000 students on franchised courses.
"Expansion has been rapid," said FEFC chief inspector Jim Donaldson, "and some colleges have not paid attention to quality."