They have been in the pipeline for several months, but last week the government confirmed a raft of new further education (FE) reforms.
Key policies including the introduction of FE loans for the over 24s from 2013 and more freedoms for colleges have been announced following the release of the sector-wide consultation on FE reforms; New Challenges, New Chances.
The report, issued by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), highlights the overall FE and skills investment in 2012-13 will be £3.8 billion.
Of this, say BIS, £3.6 billion will be routed through the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), before falling to £3.4 billion by 2013-14 and £3.3 billion by 2014-15.
It will be supplemented by £129 million and £398 million respectively provided through FE loans for adult learners aged 24 and over on Level 3 or higher courses.
Other measures see businesses “helping to develop courses that best meet their needs for growth”, while the sector will also be actively supported by promoting excellence in teaching and developing a package of education products aimed at global opportunities.
Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “Further education plays a critical role in extending opportunity, forging social cohesion and fostering enterprise.
“But we need to place more trust in the sector’s ability to understand and meet local communities skills needs.
“By giving more freedom to colleges to set courses based on local skills needs, and increasing businesses’ role in designing qualifications, we will empower students, colleges and employers to drive economic recovery.”
Colleges will, as expected and as set out in the recently approved Education Bill 2011, be given greater freedoms from central government control, allowing them to set courses based on local employer needs.
This includes streamlining, reducing bureaucracy and removing regulation – such as removing central government targets, bringing together various funding streams and giving colleges greater financial freedom over borrowing and investment.
Students will also be “empowered” to make informed choices, by pulling together comparative data on training providers and the launch of the new National Careers Service in April 2012, which has previously come under criticism from campaigners, who say it does not provide enough face-to-face guidance for youngsters.
At the same time, BIS say they we will take swift action to “failing provision”, providing intensive support and, if necessary, intervening to ensure “alternative and innovative delivery approaches are secured” for the future.
Skills minister John Hayes added: “These measures will place students at the heart of the FE system, free colleges to meet local skills needs and give the sector the financial certainty it has so long desired.
“By giving students the power to make informed choices over which course is best for them and ensuring funds are prioritised, towards those most in need, we will build the skilled workforce businesses need to thrive and communities need to prosper.”
The Skills for Life survey headline findings also published by BIS highlighted one in ten adults – aged 16 to 65 – lack basics in both numeracy and literacy skills.
To address this, English and maths training will be boosted, including apprenticeships providers to offer training to GCSE standard.