Denham’s funding plan

earns vote of colleges

Colleges in Birmingham have welcomed governmental proposals to overhaul the funding system - despite concern that income could be cut under a plan to link financing to the success of student employment.

Skills Secretary John Denham unveiled his vision for college funding at the Association of Colleges conference in Birmingham including options for allocating funding in proportion to the number of students who went on to find long-term work.

With UK unemployment at an 11-year high, the Government is under pressure to boost the job market. The idea of linking college funding to long-term student employment is an attempt to focus attention on successful training for the workplace.

Mr Denham wrote his annual letter to the Learning and Skills Council yesterday, asking to explore how the proposals could be implemented. The Secretary of State said that he was looking at ways of “providing firm foundations for growth as the economy recovers.”

The letter said the Government is “very interested in exploring with colleges and providers ways in which their budgets can be used flexibly within key priorities where the learning programme delivers sustainable employment outcomes”.

It said: “Such an outcome could be keeping the newly-unemployed in touch with work through structured work experience, providing them with tailored work programmes that lead to sustainable employment.”

The Skills Secretary also announced a £500 million increase in the budget for post-16 education but wrote of the need to “ensure that our investment is used as effectively as possible.”

Philip Haynes, of Bournville College, welcomed the Government’s increased focus on training for the workplace.

He said: “Bournville College is heartened by the government’s backing of the Train to Gain programme, particularly the increased flexibility regarding eligibility of individuals.

“The College is already doing business in Birmingham and Solihull areas with employers delivering skills training to employees. The skills are in areas identified by the employers and are designed to enable companies and individuals to come through the recession period in good shape. Bournville College was already working with a specialist Business Development Team to meet the need for well-trained employees.

Bournville College is one of several in the region who provide Train To Gain courses. Aimed at encouraging employers and individuals to maximise their skills set and be well equipped to face the difficult employment situation, Train To Gain has had its budget increased by 16 per cent to £925 million.

Mr Denham said he wanted to see colleges working with businesses that were cutting down to a four-day week, and that his budget overall was focused on “qualifications that help people get on in work” and directed “away from shorter courses that don’t”.

Nigel Davies, executive director for business development of Sutton Coldfield and Mathew Boulton Colleges, backed the minister’s proposals, saying: “Businesses need a flexible approach to the training of their staff. The success of our colleges is due to us successfully educating and training youngsters in order to meet the needs of local employers and sector employment requirements.”