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Leading academic calls for FE reform to mirror university practice

FE should mirror UK university practice to create an education system that treats all students equally and adapts to individual skills requirements, according to King’s College Professor of Public Management Alison Wolf.

A report, published by education charity Learning and Skills Network’s (LSN) Centre of Innovation in Learning think-tank, argues all post-18 students should have access to subsidised student loans and grants. These are currently offered only to full-time university undergraduates, but Professor Wolf proposes combining them with genuine learner accounts for students to use freely to pay for their qualifications.

“If we want the post-compulsory education sector to realise its potential, then the sooner we move to an equitable, learner-responsive system, the better,” she says.

“Central planning has failed over and over again. Government has proven itself unable to identify and fill the nation’s skills gaps, and has failed to increase productivity and failed to ensure economic growth by delivering qualifications.

“The new buzzwords of ‘skills activism’ and ‘skills accounts’ are simply central planning by another name, and any genuine change must go further. It’s time to drop the rhetoric that government knows best and allow individual learners to make their own decisions about the training and qualifications that best suit them.”

“In practice, this will require a complete overhaul of the Further Education system in this country to enable it to respond directly to individuals’ decisions and demand. However, we have a successful model to hand, namely our own universities! Equalising access to government subsidised loans and grants for all post-18 learners on long courses and introducing genuine learner accounts, along with institutional change, will enable us to create a fully demand-led FE system that will drive the skill needs of a post-recession Britain.”

John Stone, chief executive of LSN, agrees the FE system requires added flexibility to meet the needs of individuals and businesses emerging from the recession.

Mr Stone adds: “As the most comprehensive look at FE sector funding reform available thus far, the system Alison Wolf proposes represents a significant contribution to the debate on how we might truly empower learners to take control of what, when and how they learn, and to make choices about investing for their own, and the country’s, future.”

Jason Rainbow

(Pictured: Professor Alison Wolf, of King’s College)

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