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How The Political Parties Want To Win The Further Education Vote

As the country prepares to vote in forthcoming election, the political parties have not remained idle. Amongst all of the pre ““ election rhetoric of tax cuts and spending shortfalls, the issue of the future of Further Education is expected to be one of the prominent features of the fierce campaigning. With the much publicized problems of funding inequalities and adult illiteracy and innumeracy, just what are the positions of the parties seeking election to the House of Commons in May?

Labour

The Labour Party see education as one of the cornerstones of their campaign, as can be remembered from the famous “education, education, education” speech in the past. And in this election, they will be seeking to highlight the positive aspects of their achievements in the field since their election in 1997. They will inform the electorate that there are 28,000 more teachers in all manner of schools than in 1997, assisted by over 105,000 more support staff. In the field of Further Education, they will point to the rise in the participation of 18 to 30 year olds, with the proportion of 18 to 30-year-olds going into higher and further education rising from around six per cent in the 1960s to 44 per cent in 2004. The “Earn as you Learn” initiative, designed to help with the rising costs to the student of studying, is cited as a weapon in the fight against the culture of “dropping out” at 16.

Conservatives

But what of the Conservatives, currently the largest opposition party and expected to provide Tony Blair’s government with the stiffest competition on a national scale in a little over a month? In Michael Howard’s introduction to the Conservative Manifesto’s Education Section, a lack of discipline is a prominent trouble to be resolved. He states that vocational education will be given the support it deserves by a Conservative government, and that the university fees system will be abolished, thus relieving the burden of debt facing many college graduates. There are pledges to create a new network of “Super Colleges”, to abolish the Learning and Skills Council, to remove much of the direct oversight of the running of colleges. Connexions, the advice service, will be scrapped and replaced with a new service. However, the manifesto then goes on to state that the voluntary and business sectors will be expected to take much of the responsibility formerly within the remit of Connexions.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats focus their approach to the subject of Further Education on the perceived divide between vocational and academic education. Picking up on the findings of the Tomlinson Committee Proposals, they accept that the provision of adequate teaching and learning facilities in Further Education cannot be done “on the cheap”. They accept that the spending increases in Further Education implemented by the Labour Government have been impressive since the announced funding package of the 2002 Association of Colleges annual conference, but they argue that the 2003 ““ 2006 spending review fails to tackle the issue of Further Education funding, which they claim has short changed some two thirds of those entering Further Education from some of the poorest backgrounds.

Greens

Amongst those parties outside the three main contenders, the Green Party campaign on the issues of District Community Colleges being the alternative to Regional Universities. The two arms of their educational system in Further Education would work in harmony to provide access to the community to the appropriate course of study, and to offer the community both vocational and academic courses. They favour a work-placement strategy based on the establishment of small individual or co-operatively owned enterprises, with incentives from the Green government to encourage work training schemes.

UKIP

The United Kingdom Independence Party, widely publicized in the past two years, sets its stall on reducing government interference in the administration of Colleges and Universities. They would seek to encourage alternative sources of funding for Colleges and Universities. One such method would be the anticipated rise in fees for EU students to a rate equal to those paid by non-EU overseas students in our Universities and Colleges. Furthering the common theme amongst the campaigning parties, they promise to raise the level of technical and vocational education to that of academic education. However, also in common with their rivals, the exact means for accomplishing this remain vague as the politicians prepare for the coming battle for votes.

Jethro Marsh

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