SUBMISSION FROM THE ASSOCIATION OF SCOTTISH COLLEGES Introduction 1. This response to the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee ELLC) “Interim Report on Lifelong Learning” takes into account discussion at the Convention on 15 April and the ELLC meeting on 17 April. 2. Previous evidence was given by ASC in its Main written submission – September 2001 Oral evidence on 14 November 2001 Supplementary submissions on the schools/college interface and barriers lifelong learning on 17 December
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3. The Committee asked for responses to its Interim Report from a national rather than sector perspective. ASC’s response offers ideas for making the strategy proposed by ELLC more effective and robust. 4. ASC welcomes the participatory and wide-ranging approach, which ELLC has followed. Lifelong learning concerns and should benefit the whole adult population of Scotland. FE colleges are unique in working with all other sectors of providers and the widest range of students and employers. This gives the FE sector a broader view of the main issues and informs our suggestions for the best ways of improving uptake and delivery. Scope of Review 5. ASC sees the review of strategy for lifelong learning as the lead review for others such as:
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The post 16 aspects of the (schools) education debate The Scottish Executive review of higher education (now at its second stage of consultation) The Scottish Executive’s internal review of vocational education (which is not, so far, a consultative exercise)
6. The strategy for lifelong learning should provide guiding principles and an overall framework for these narrower reviews. ELLC should continue to work with ECS Committee to ensure that the “silo” approach of separate policy development is made more coherent and convergent than at present seems likely. Aims and Benefits 7. ASC welcomes and supports the aims and objectives ELLC has set out for lifelong learning. We remain convinced that policies for lifelong learning have to balance the interests – sometimes divergent – of learner demand, employer requirements, and society’s needs. 8. In the past 8 years, public policies have tended to emphasise “employability” as the main – sometimes only – justification for investment in vocational education and training. We support the view that the benefits to individuals and to communities should be taken more fully into account. 9. But it is important to highlight lifelong employability as a fundamental priority for achieving a “smart, successful” Scotland. There are 3 reasons for this: • Firstly the strategy will not have succeeded if in 2010 there are still many individuals who are not ready for work or able to take up any jobs solely because of deficient education and training; and
Secondly, the strategy must promote increasing investment in lifelong learning by prospective or current employers; and Thirdly, employees need to maximise their potential and contribution in the workplace and for future jobs.
10. On quality, ASC urges the Committee to recognise that all dimensions of quality – choice, accessibility, range, intensity, learning environment etc – should be ensured for all forms and at all levels of lifelong learning. The continuing “efficiency cut” in the unit of resource for FE implies a sacrifice of some aspects of provision not demanded of schools or universities. Elements of Strategy 11. ASC welcomes the Interim Report’s support for: Empowerment of all lifelong learners A common “entitlement” based on SCQF credits Completion and use of the SCQF framework for all levels of qualification Simplification of funding for tuition and training Alignment of student support
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12. For empowerment ASC supports the Minister’s view that individuals need to be well informed and advised on the appropriate choices. Choosing the wrong course is all too easy and can be very costly for the individual and public funding. This is why ASC recommends that a learning plan should be part of the entitlement for every individual. 13. For entitlement ASC supports the aim of enabling everyone to get support from public funds for up to 720 SCQF credits. This would level up opportunities for late starters, part-time learners, and levels below degree to the equivalence of 6 years full-time study. 720 SCQF credits are currently obtained mainly by those taking 2 years post-16, usually at school, and 4 years at university to an Honours degree. 14. It is vital to ensure that:
Those who left school with no or fewest qualifications can progress eventually to higher education if they wish There is some room for changes of course or direction (zig-zag routes) for those whose jobs or prospects change There is headroom for the disadvantaged to spend longer acquiring basic skills than is allowed at present The 2 plus 2 model (2 years HN plus 2 years to degree) can be more fully implemented 15. More work and investment will be required to ensure that SCQF is fully designed and implemented at all levels. There has been renewed effort and good progress in recent months. But much more remains to be done, in particular, to: Ensure universities accept SCQF credits for selection and part-exemption for their courses Fully introduce “SCQF credits” and levels to lower levels of the framework (levels 1-3) and to SVQs Ensure engagement of FE and employer bodies as full development partners because of the courses they design and develop 16. More development work is needed on how SCQF might record and give credit for learning outcomes below unit level and for prior leaving which was not certificated. This is particularly important at lower levels of SCQF and for learning in the workplace. 17. ASC supports the view that separate sources and agencies for funding can lead to undue demarcation between education sectors. There is continuing debate within ASC as to
how desirable a single funding agency is and what current elements of provision (and respective funding agencies) it should include.
18. There are substantial anomalies. One example is the disparity in gross unit of resource for teaching of a full-time year at SCQF levels 7 or 8: FE College SFEFC £2067 £3068 £1842 Higher Education Institutions SHEFC £4033 £6859 £3352
Funding body Business Studies Engineering Social Science
In both cases the amount shown is core revenue grant exclusive of premiums (for wider access or social inclusion) plus tuition fee. SHEFC funding, however, is for all years of degree courses including years 3 and 4 (Honours year) and is abated if an HEI is allocated “fees only” places (up to 5% of places in some cognate areas). 19. There would be particular advantages in aligning funding for tuition at SCQF levels 7 and 8 as is already the case for student support. The discontinuity of funding arrangements at this level is particularly evident in relation to the emerging plans for UHIMI and for shared activity of the FE college and HEI sectors in other areas such as Crichton Campus, Dumfries and elsewhere in Scotland. 20. More attention and priority is required for delivery of SCQF levels 1-4. Diversity of provision is needed to enable individuals to take up education and training from widely differing starting points and circumstances. Collaboration between sectors already exists widely and is being developed rapidly at local level. ASC does not yet have an agreed view as to whether a single source and agency of funding would work well and could be introduced smoothly. 21. One approach would be to “evolve and devolve” rather than radically revamp structures in the medium term. Substantial improvements could be achieved by adopting the principles of:
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Fewer initiatives or separate one-year at a time small allocations for different purposes Convergence and stabilisation of core funding at realistic units of resource for similar levels of qualification Requiring all lead agencies, the organisations they fund and the many intermediary bodies in Scotland to contribute to, and make possible contributions from, the work of other sectors and agencies Concentrate setting of overall priorities at national level but give local responsibility and accountability for delivery to providers which delivery education and training Ensure processes for making decisions are open and accountable
22. One problem for a single funding agency would be how to work appropriately with every provider of learning or training from universities and FE colleges to voluntary bodies providing only short courses for small numbers of students. The use of partnerships and subcontracting, within quality frameworks, could limit the number of organisations with which a funding body has to work. But there would need to be threshold standards of quality, performance, and accountability for any bodies which are to receive funds for continuing, programmes rather than fixed-term projects. 23. Scotland has seen major improvements in funding and the range of student support since 1999. Following the Cubie Committee, Scotland now has: A much better package of support (including additional grant support for childcare, mature students, and disadvantaged young students) Better (but not yet complete) alignment of allowances and parental /family contributions to maintenance for full-time study
24. There are still improvements needed in means testing for maintenance and in support for part-time study. Targeting of support to disadvantaged groups is needed and could be strengthened by: Devolving more of client-responsive support to institutions (as Cubie recommended on the basis of FE colleges use of discretionary elements of bursary and hardship funding) Better focussing of new forms of support (in particular Individual Learning Accounts, and Educational Maintenance Allowances) Additional cash to support disabled students and to comply with statutory obligations 25. ASC’s view is that student support can be improved substantially – and most quickly – by using simplified procedures rather than overhauling existing responsibilities Cost and Budget Implications 26. The ambitious programme proposed by ELLC will not succeed if it is under-funded or assumes a reduction in unit costs.
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Quality costs whether it is for accessibility, choice or intensity “efficiency cuts” fall mainly on staffing and lead to an increasingly under-rewarded and insecure workforce the more disadvantaged the student the more tuition, guidance and support is required demand for lifelong learning is already strong and likely to grow as opportunities to take part improve outreach (taking learning to the learner online or in the workplace) requires extra investment
27. The strategy for lifelong learning will need headroom for meeting unsatisfied demand and under-participation by disadvantaged groups. Current spending plans for FE in 2002-04 imply a standstill in overall volume (places and teaching activity) and cutbacks in college’s prospectuses. This will delay progress on wider access, “inclusiveness” for the most disadvantaged, and investment in outreach (learning centres and on-line learning). 28. ASC is not convinced that the assertion that “rationalisation will deliver savings” justifies fewer colleges. The evidence of FE mergers in England is that these are costly and disruptive in the short-term. In Scotland there is no obvious correlation between size and financial health of colleges. 29. Purchasers of places tend to favour fixed funding per place. When reasonable units of resource are offered – as does SHEFC to universities – it is reasonable to expect the provider to sort out problems of variable costs for the range of class size, and of equipment/facilities for different subjects to be offered. When the price per place is less than full cost – as it is currently for example, for New Deal and Skillseekers – providers cannot be expected to maintain, much less improve, facilities and quality. 30 Scottish Enterprise has proposed sharp cutbacks in funding for this year for Skillseeker places. This is currently under review in response to representation from providers. New Deal also expects more service (start when ready, attendance requirement, and a successful outcome) for its 1 year full-time education and training option, but pays less per place for it. 31. ASC’s view is that a fundamental review of resource allocation and levels will be required to ensure that the new strategy for lifelong learning succeeds. This should precede any fundamental review of the roles of current funding agencies, and address the issue of how Scotland will “mainstream” activity currently supported by ESF (which is expected to fall sharply from 2007 onwards).
Funding the Learner and the Institution 32. The Committee specifically sought views on the balance to be struck between funding for institutions (or providers) and funding “which follows the learner”. 33. The present fee plus grant model for most SFEFC funding is reasonably flexible and responsive, provided the unit of resource is stabilised at realistic levels. “Fee” represents the input individuals and employers are expected to make. Where this is not available, the “fee waiver” compensation provides a suitable safeguard. The balance between grant and fee can be – and has been – varied to expand or consolidate capacity. 34. Building capacity for tuition and training requires more capital investment and a longer-term view than at present. There will always be a role – though fast changing – for short-term and specialised provision. College prospectuses change year to year and even inyear (“no students – no courses”). Scotland should have FE colleges built and equipped to modern standards of which their communities can be justly proud. 35. There is scope for a wider range of student and employer contribution than at present. But there are also dangers of reducing accessibility and opportunities overall if the “core” of public funding of tuition and training for qualifications becomes too diluted. 36. One danger in “funding the learner” is its high displacement cost. Individuals and employers who would have paid anyway make use of the ILA or whatever “because they are there”. ASC’s views on this issue are coloured by the adverse experience of:
demand-led funding of FE in England; and the first Individual Learning Accounts scheme
The lessons of excess demand and accreditation of provision need to be taken into account in any future funding arrangements 37. Scotland’s strategy on lifelong learning must encourage personal and employer investment on a larger scale and for a wider range of purposes. 38. The focus of support for the learner and support for the employer varies a good deal among different sources of public funding for lifelong learning. In further education there is a general distinction between training to make people “job ready” (which is primarily the responsibility of the employer, assisted as necessary by other agencies such as the Enterprise Networks) and broader vocational education to help people to be “work ready” now and in the future (for which public funding from SFEFC and for student support is primarily provided). 39. These distinctions, however, should not prevent individuals from further education and training to improve lifetime employability. For example, the rule that “only a job” is a successful outcome to New Deal should be revised to accept suitable full-time learning or training as a successful outcome. 40. ASC supports the idea of a “business learning account” but with one important caveat. The aim should be student empowerment not “client capture”. In other words, public funding for education and training in the workplace should enable individuals to equip themselves for future employment not just their current job. 41. It would help to reconcile employer and learner requirements in the present insistence on N/SVQ qualifications for Enterprise Network volume training programmes were to be removed. This step would also make it easier for SMEs to develop workplace learning in partnership with colleges and other providers.
The Way Forward 42. ASC believes that the Committee’s Inquiry on Lifelong Learning will help to establish fundamental principles and more coherent and effective delivery for the next decade. The lead provided by the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive is vital. Successful implementation is most likely to be achieved by recognising the variety of forums and partnerships at national, sectoral and local level which will be required to take matters forward. “Multi-networking reflects the diverse reality and changing demands of lifelong learning. 43. ELLC’s Interim Report has stimulated important debate about the fundamental principles and priorities for lifelong learning in Scotland. Some of the key concepts such as entitlement and SCQF credits will need further analysis and development work. On detail of policy, priorities and funding, it is sometimes easier to identify anomalies and problems than to offer comprehensive or lasting solutions. 44. ASC believes that early and substantial progress can be made in achieving a more cohesive and effective strategy for lifelong learning. The FE sector is particularly well placed to contribute to further development and delivery of a new strategy because of colleges: collaboration with employers and other users of qualifications and with other public agencies or providers range of courses and modes of delivery to suit all kinds of student demand and employer requirement record of quality and productivity in delivery of learning and teaching 45. ASC does not think that it would be appropriate to have a single forum such as the proposed Lifelong Learning Advisory Council. Although the strategy as a whole needs to be coherent and sustained, there are many different levels of engagement and partnership required for delivery. Different arrangements and partners are needed for different kinds of provision or for different groups of customers. 46. The FE sector is well used to the “multi-networking” that is needed to address different requirements or interfaces between sectors within lifelong learning. ASC will be working with its partners to improve convergence of aims, easier access and administration, and customer and user involvement. 47. This approach would be accelerated if the Committee and Scottish Executive would give a stronger commitment to the principles of:
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multi-networking - to ensure that funders, providers, customers, and users work together strategic focus – concentrating national policy and funding priorities on major strategic concerns rather than one-off or selective initiatives accountability – so that providers can take responsibility for deciding what is most appropriate to local circumstances within strategic, national priorities.
ASC Executive May 2002