Education Guardian has a story today about the cuts in spending on Adult Education at sub-degree level, these are the courses offered at Further Education Colleges and include adult literacy and numeracy courses and Access courses designed to prepare mature students for progressing to degree studies at traditional universities. Government funding for these courses is managed by the Learning and Skills Council and the number of students benefiting from this funding is expected to drop by 10% in the next academic year. At the same time the government continues to fund the Aimhigher initiative aimed at increasing participation in Higher Education by those in the 18 - 30 age group - this is funded, in part, through the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The target is that by the year 2010 50% of that age group will have "some exposure" to HE - this "exposure" is a moving feast and originally meant that they would earn at least 120 CATS points but the feeling is that in a few years time anyone who has driven past a university campus will have qualified as being "exposed". But of course the introduction of "top up" fees will make it harder for some to consider moving on to HE. The final factor to consider is that pupils who stay on after the age of 16 can earn £30 each week as an "Education Maintenance Allowance". This means tested benefit is aimed at widening participation in socio-economic groups who might otherwise not study after reaching the age at which they can leave the mainstream education system. Of course making these payments also keeps these young school leavers off the unemployment figures too - an emergent property that, I'm sure, is unintended. And the introduction of Foundation Degrees is also squeezing FE colleges, universities are offering FDs but delivering them through partner colleges because the costs (to the university) are lower and they still gain a percentage of the course fees and government subsidy. This shift to offering more lower level courses, the ones still being funded by the LSC, and FDs means that staffing in FE is creating problems. Tutors qualified to work on Foundation Degrees are unlikely to work on L1 courses as well. And pay and conditions for tutors in FE colleges still lag behind the benefits enjoyed by university academics.
So where does this leave the poor learner and their local FE college? Does it appear incoherent? Does the way in which these fiscal levers are being used make sense if the objective is to increase the skill sets of the workforce in this knowledge economy? Who knows? And that's probably the most worrying part! PS Thanks Kat - I had forgotten about this: Please also download and look at the Manifesto for Change.