As colleges are required to make even further so-called efficiency gains, a classic contradiction and paradox is presented to colleges who are trying to manage the current situation. Institutions are now expected to deal with a very harsh and steep reduction in their resources from the Funding Council, just at the time when we are beginning to open up access and attempt to increase participation of the new learners of the future. We are therefore confronted with two opposite and in many cases opposing forces arising from convergence of funding and the divergence arising from the increasingly diverse learner populations.
Convergent funding affects all aspects of an institution’s work. The reduction of funding most certainly will require reduction of the guided learning hours that are offered to our learners, and that in turn will, as institutions have to deal with an ever decreasing financial base from the Funding Councils, narrow and reduce the curriculum offer that institutions can attempt to make. This convergence is occurring just at the time when many colleges are opening up access and encouraging and attracting new learners back to study. I have attempted, in a very simple diagram to show this conflict between the two opposites.
The learners of the future will clearly require greater support, not only at the entry stage of their studies, but on-programme. The greater diversity of learners, who possess different backgrounds and experiences and expectations, will require increased support from staff in colleges. If this country is serious about developing a culture of lifelong learning, then the real harvest of students are mature ones. They will require increased support, but this is just at the time when colleges are finding it increasingly difficult to provide the necessary quality for an effective service to its students.
Colleges fully accept that they need to recognise the various transformations that are occurring in the world of work and society in general and that they need to develop more enlightened methods of teaching and learning and also need to recognise the demands made by employers who wish to support and encourage their employees back to study.
However, there is a fundamental contradiction in trying to reconcile these two opposite influences. Colleges are reducing guided learning hours significantly and there is now evidence that the service is suffering by way of lower retentions and achievements. Equally worrying is that many colleges are reducing their curriculum offers. As the resource base diminishes, they are having to make hard decisions about reducing staff and hence their ability to offer and deliver a wide range of provision.
If this country is to develop a coherent and consistent range of provision that forms a ‘seamless robe’ then it is hard to imagine how one can fit together these two opposing trends. It is as if you have two pieces of a jig-saw that joined together should provide you with a coherent and matched picture, but sadly, this is not the case in the current climate.