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Orders of the Day — Further and Higher Education Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:44 pm on 11th February 1992.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Education and Science 4:44 pm, 11th February 1992

That is the particular in Wolverhampton and even in Richmond. I wish first to deal with the Bill as a whole. I know that particular examples have been raised.

I have described the need for us to legislate to cope with the rapidly changing nature of higher education and further education needs. The specifics that are set out in the Bill—this is so that we can look at the wood before we turn to extremely important trees in particular places—deal first with further education. I hope that even the trees in Wolverhampton will be able to wait for a few minutes.

The main policy set out in the Bill is to give further education colleges, and sixth form colleges in particular, independence from local government. It is designed to give autonomy to the colleges so that they take upon themselves full responsibility for the delivery of courses and the provision of an adequate service to their locality, and to make them accountable more directly to the community that they serve. We propose to move to a funding council system and away from local authority control. That system is based exactly on the experience of the polytechnics over the past few years. At the beginning of this Parliament, shortly after the last general election, the Government carried through a Bill, in the teeth of quite a lot of opposition, that had the effect of taking polytechnics out of local authority control. They have thrived ever since. They have expanded rapidly and their academic independence has not been remotely compromised. On the contrary, they have become powerful academic institutions, making an important contribution to higher education. We are following that precedent in higher education.

When talking in the jargon of the Government's policy, we sometimes refer to creating a new sector of autonomous further education colleges. I hope that within that sector there will be room for considerable diversity. I do not believe that every sixth form college should become like every further education or tertiary college. The co-existence of sixth form colleges in schools, of sixth form colleges previously under schools' regulations and of further education colleges—this is where there is variety, and it is to be found in many areas— means that each student can make a choice on the basis of what suits his or her temperament or aptitude, and what climate, as it were, is likely to be conducive to his or her study.