Dr David Collins, the first President of the Association of Colleges, has called for innovative solutions to tackle difficulties colleges now face in the present economic climate.

Speaking at the AoC's 13th annual conference, Dr Collins said: "There are already signs of the steady supply of apprenticeships drying up or at the very least suffering a reduction in their number. Innovative solutions will be needed and already colleges are stepping up to the mark with ideas such as the group apprenticeship scheme to support small businesses in London.

"Similarly as the numbers of the unemployed begin to grow we must learn from the mistakes of previous recessions and put as much effort into those who have recently lost their jobs as we have previously done for the long-term unemployed.

"We have already had productive discussions with the Secretary of State and AoC and DIUS are putting together a best practice guide to college activity in this area that will be published in the next few weeks. As leading public sector institutions we will play our full part in providing opportunities and solutions.

"In these and other areas AoC is working to be supportive of government policy but not sycophantic. Where we feel there are weaknesses we are prepared to point them out – even if it makes us temporarily unpopular – and where there are opportunities for development we are there to ensure that the college sector fully benefits."

Dr Collins also stressed that there “is also much work to be done, too, in the area of self-regulation. This is a great opportunity for colleges but we must be more specific as to what we really want. Relationships between LSIS, Ofsted and the Single Voice are still to be properly defined. Nor is what happens to the powers currently held by the LSC in setting minimum levels of performance or funding, or determining the need for intervention when they disappear.

"As a mature sector colleges are ready to take on board a greater responsibility for our regulation and control. Translating this into a workable reality will be a priority in the year ahead."

The annual AoC conference, at the ICC in Birmingham, will take place from 18-20 November. Keynote speakers include Rt Hon John Denham MP, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills and Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP, Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Dr Collins added: "The next three days are the time for a celebration of the recent past and what we as colleges have achieved, sharing ideas and best practice and learning from those who may have a better idea of what is on our horizon."

Do you want to experience the AoC conference as if you were there? FE News are at the event, shooting speeches and exclusive interviews, so make sure to check out FE News regularly for our latest exclusive video content.

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