From education to employment

Shadow Skills Minister : FE should play part in widening access to Higher Education

Tory MP says bureaucracy holds colleges back from expanding into HE

The Shadow Minister for Vocational Education, John Hayes, has called for broader access to higher education with non-traditional routes such as vocational learning becoming the norm. Speaking at Birkbeck College at an event hosted by the Universities Association of Lifelong Learning, the Tory MP said there should be a more flexible approach to education and learning, tailored to fit the needs of the individual.

He said: “Broadening access means valuing vocational learning as a route to the acquisition of sophisticated skill sets and qualifications at first degree level and above.”

In a wide-ranging speech that looked at the ways access to HE could be broadened for many rather than deepened for a few, Mr Hayes spoke of the role local FE colleges could play in serving those whose lives didn’t fit traditional forms of university learning.

“Colleges are characterised by localness, accessibility and flexibility. Their proximity to non-traditional students’ homes, workplaces and previous learning experiences enables an easy reach to the under-represented. That’s why the cohort at FE colleges is drawn from across social classes, ethnic groups and the age range.

”But, the growth of higher education courses in FE colleges has faltered in recent years and is now actually falling. HE enrolments in FE colleges have declined in the last three years and are below their 2001/02 level.

”It’s unsurprising that the growth of HE in FE has stalled, given the obstacles that colleges face in providing higher education qualifications. The barriers that are curbing the growth of higher education in colleges are seriously undermining attempts to broaden access.”

The shadow minister said that the creation of the Learning and Skills Council had reinforced the divide between further and higher education. As a result he argued: “HE in FE exists in a no-mans-land between the central concerns of the funding bodies for higher and further education, the funding of which is based on two very different methodologies.”

Returning to a favourite theme of his, Mr Hayes criticised the bureaucracy of the current funding system saying: “The expansion of provision is further hindered by complex and bureaucratic financial mechanisms. Roughly half the FE colleges’ currently delivering higher education have students funded in three different ways.

”The 2005 Foster Report revealed the shocking level of bureaucracy that encumbers colleges. Yet rather than reducing the bureaucratic burden the current Government is adding to it. It is replacing the LSC with three new bodies, all of which will have a role in FE.”
And referring to vocational training he said: “Instead of attempting to make the practical academic we should elevate vocational learning for its own sake, in its own right. And we must look at how higher education can become more involved – perhaps through the development of apprenticeship programmes at degree level, developed in collaboration with employers.”

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