The funding maze is out and yes it provides challenges but it also gives a clear indication of a difficult future for learning in general. For 16 – 19 learning there is the potential of a new funding model which could ignore ‘success’ and for adults….. well you are going to be a clever student to avoid loans which will be repayable. In fact do we need to redefine what an adult actually is? I foresee a landscape where adult learning is for the unemployed and learners aged 19 – 23. Take this analysis and then look at the changes occurring in Ofsted who are seeking outstanding learning with an equality of opportunity for learners and Houston – we have a problem!
There is of course another way of looking at the above which is to consider the new adult landscape as a positive and developing partnership with Job Centre Plus so that we refocus adult learning and consider one of the key roles of Further Education as providing the bridge to employment. The rest of the adult market is then developed to provide up-skilling and with a strong focus on apprenticeships. This I am sure is what Government intend but it does reinforce the need for Further Education to be extremely flexible and ‘quick’ to change. We can do it but I hope that some consideration is given to transitional protection as we move to a new and even more target driven model. Let us also hope that the final adult allocations for 2012 / 13 are fair and reflect the SFA approach and give credit to those organisations who made the move from ‘Train to Gain’ to apprenticeships and maximised their approach in accordance with SFA guidelines. Colleagues inform me that to date SFA have not paid due attention to this, but it’s not too late.
While I look at funding in general I cannot let the issue of ‘HE in FE’ pass and the allocation of places to institutions seems at face value to be a mathematical calculation rather than a process which examines quality of provision, results of IQER and success in recent years. I personally had hoped for a sophisticated methodology with real attention to detail such as learner experience, time allocated for scholarly activity and level of entrepreneurship / research. Clearly not – in fairness perhaps this is not the model to be used and yet we do see growth for institutions making offers at high grade or their equivalent. Everyone will have a view on this but let us at least hope that all institutions who have direct funding for HE ie both Universities and Further Education Colleges are allowed to grow in the same way.
So having covered the issue of funding, there is now the chance to consider Capital Investment and the latest news from the Skills Funding Agency regarding approval of Capital Projects has been positive. Many Colleges can at least begin elements of refurbishment and capital investment to improve the learning environment. Again there is a long way to go but simultaneously organisations will be able to re-evaluate their accommodation needs as new funding changes and demography infer less demand in many cases and therefore a reduction in places. Equally this could be reversed in the light of the raising of the school leaving age and rising levels of unemployment.
So much than for the physical resource but what about the human resource – the staff who will engage our learners and those who will create the entrepreneurs and leaders for tomorrow. Firstly there is the issue of flexibility – the new environment will require a mix of managers, lecturers and instructors as well as Colleges being able to recruit staff on short term assignments to meet the demands of the curriculum and in particular response to industry requirements. Secondly there is the issue of conditions of service such as changes to pension entitlement and salary levels which is causing disruption and uncertainty. The debate in pensions continues whereas on salary the issue must rest with Governing Bodies and management. My own view is that salary should be treated as in the private sector with reward for good and outstanding performance. My own College recruits many of its key managers direct from industry – all agree they have never worked so hard in their life!
We should be focussed and able to deal with the uncertain future for our sector but equally there is that reliance on receiving guidance and direction from those who continue to reshape our sector. I make no comment except to wish you all every success.
Paul Phillips is principal and chief executive of Weston College, Weston-super-Mare
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