In the world of Further Education, there remain many issues to be resolved. Each political party has their own particular stance, based on either ideological foundations or more local and parochial bases, and each of these parties seeks to convince the public that their own opinion is the only viable alternative for Britain; indeed, they often alternate from a defence of their own policies to an attack on those of the other parties, claiming that the implementation of this policy or that initiative would herald the deterioration of the service involved.
In conversation with Quentin Deacon, the spokesperson for the Green Party on Education, the emphasis is refreshingly constructive, without recourse to the negative arguments that have been so efficient in the general malaise afflicting public participation in and faith in the body politic. Mr. Deacon had no reservations in expressing himself in favour of a policy, even when it happened to be in accord with those of another party. For instance, as with the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party are opposed to both tuition and top "“ up fees, with a return to the maintenance grant. He also expressed the Green Party's satisfaction with the work done by the Adult Learning Inspectorate and the Learning and Skills Council, emphasizing the need for stability and continuity in the sector for any long term progress to be made.
Learning For Life
The Green Party, Mr. Deacon stated, is committed to learning being a lifelong initiative and something that is "a right and not a privilege". To this end, they would introduce the "citizen's income", a mechanism whereby each citizen would receive a weekly stipend from the government. This would enable adult learners to return to education even were they to find it impossible to do so by their own means, thus removing some of the "self-funding" issues currently raised.
The Green Party is also, as is widely known, committed to the development of research into renewable energy sources and the conversion of Britain's energy supply to sustainable and "green" alternatives. Mr. Deacon expressed the belief that this would require a move in research emphasis from a theoretical base to a much more vocational approach to problems, which would be reflected in the make-up of both the colleges and the courses offered. He also commented that there would be the opportunity for many of those currently working within the contemporaneous energy community to transfer with many of their existing skills and much of their pre-extant training to the new, greener energy community, with provision expected for those skills that would require some extra training.
Open University and the FE Funding Gap
Mr. Deacon then raised a subject which had not been mentioned in other interviews with the various parties conducted on behalf of FE News, namely, the subject of those studying under the Open University scheme. He cited a rise in costs as a cause for concern, inspired as it is by the relative rise in expense in the running of the Open University system. He stated that the Green Party wished to see the burden upon those students at the Open University countered by better support, and that there should be greater parity between students in this medium and others.
With regards to the funding crisis within the FE sector, highlighted by the Association of Colleges and their campaign over the past few weeks to raise public and political awareness, Mr. Deacon agreed that there is a problem to be resolved. He recognizes that the Further Education sector has become more and more important, and has been shortchanged compared to the funding awarded to universities. He also recognizes that it will be necessary to address the discrepancies in pay levels between the FE and HE sectors, and the Green Party would support greater funding for the FE sector.
The Future Is Green?
Mr. Deacon also expressed his concern for the future of the education sector with regards to the particular issue of overseas students" admission to the British educational sector. It must be stressed that this does not represent a narrow nationalist view; this concern can be just as aptly applied to the domestic environment. He is concerned with the increasingly "free market" approach to admissions policies, and believes that this is entirely at odds with the fundamental message of the Green Party's position regarding Further Education, and indeed education in general; education is a right, not a privilege.