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FE is central to the future direction of HE policy, says Frank McLoughlin

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FE has an increasing role to play in the direction of HE policy, according to Frank McLoughlin, chair of the 157 Group, which represents 28 of the most influential colleges in England.

As an independent review by Lord Browne recommends employers and learners bear more of the cost of HE, Mr McLoughlin is calling for more recognition of the provision already offered in colleges.

“At a time when businesses and families are still feeling the full impact of the recession, the prospect of higher costs for HE is worrying for many,” he said.

“We strongly believe that further education colleges have an increasingly pivotal role to play in addressing the challenges that we as a nation face – greater demand for higher education and higher-level skills, and not enough money.

“FE is central to the future direction of HE policy, and we want to highlight the much?overlooked and under-reported provision of high-quality HE in FE colleges.”

The 157 Group, together with the Mixed Economy Group (MEG), which represents FE colleges that have a significant role in HE, has published a joint policy paper: ‘Rising to the challenge: how FE colleges are key to the future of HE’.

John Widdowson, chair of MEG and principal of New College Durham, said: “We hope that this timely paper will draw attention to the range of solutions that our FE colleges offer to help equip young people and adults of all ages with the higher?level skills and knowledge needed for our economy to thrive.”

Among proposals in Lord Browne’s review of HE and student funding is a recommendation to remove the cap on fees, which has prompted some to warn over possible “social sorting” in the university admissions system.

Wes Streeting, chief executive of the Helena Kennedy Foundation, the student finance charity, warned higher fees can deter students from poorer backgrounds unless “sufficiently generous financial support” is also given through grants.

“The Government must ensure that any proposals it carries forward do not lead to a future where students from disadvantaged backgrounds are priced out of those universities with the highest tuition fees,” said Streeting.

“A system where the poorest students choose courses based on the price tag risks social sorting and a worsening of inequality in university admissions.”

Brendan Barber, general secretary of union TUC, also cautioned that higher fees could exclude poorer learners from university.

However, Barber commended the report’s “encouragement for part-time students as the review acknowledges the unfairness of them having to pay fees upfront”.

The review treats the UK’s half a million part-time undergraduates on a pro-rata equitable basis with full-time students. It also extends the range of part-timers covered by these arrangements from learners taking half of a full-time course to those taking a third.

Jason Rainbow

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