Greater freedom from over-elaborate funding restrictions must be provided to colleges so that they can achieve their full potential for the benefit of their wider communities, according to an interim report from the Independent Commission on Colleges in their Communities.
The report, A Dynamic Nucleus: colleges at the heart of local communities, which was published yesterday, highlights an unduly complicated funding system for colleges in England, one which consumes too much top management time.
Mark Ravenhall, director of policy and impact at the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), one of the supporters of the Commission, believes the current system must be reformed.
"Colleges are the institutional backbone of local learning eco-systems for adults, working closely with local authorities and independent providers," said Mr Ravenhall.
"But this is an eco-system that's constantly evolving. With new funding arrangements colleges need the space to operate beyond their current financial limitations."
The report detected a further need for co-ordination of skills demand at a local level, but also provided an optimistic note, revealing that many colleges have already been embedded in their communities, and have provided significant help to the problems and needs of the aspiring youths.
Placing colleges at the heart of the FE system and forging a strong bond between them and local adults and young people is the principal goal of the Commission. It has produced a shared vision for 2013, according to which colleges will have a central leadership and co-ordinating role in the funding and regulation of FE, as the major public sector infrastructure investment for adult learning and skills. In return, central government will see greater levels of investment in the system by employers and individuals alike.
Baroness Margaret Sharp of Guilford, who heads the Commission, said: "I have long recognised, supported and admired the substantial contributions that colleges make to society. Each of them is different, faces different changes and responds in different ways.
"There is no such thing as a standard FE college but many of them are inspiring institutions. I hope that this Interim Report will stimulate further discussion and debate which can feed into our final report due in November."
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