Post-16 institutions currently offer a wide range of programmes of study for awards in science-specific and science-related areas. Examples of this provision are GCSE, A levels. General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs), occupationally specific National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and other vocational qualifications (VQs).
Many FE colleges are now finding it difficult to maintain this range of provision, because of the high cost of delivery coupled with relatively low numbers of students enrolled on some of the programmes of study. This is particularly true for vocational provision. The recent tariff revision proposals, given in FEFC Circular 96/28, indicate that the tariffs are not to be revised upwards for science. This will cause concern about colleges’ continuing provision, particularly in the areas of technician education and training, linked to science employment
There is already evidence that colleges are cutting back. If this trend is not reversed, then science provision post-16 will become very sanitised and homogenous, focused primarily on A levels and GNVQs.
Many employers are very positive about working with colleges, seeing them as effective partners in delivering knowledge, understanding and competence, as well as the essential key (formerly known as core) skills that employees in the future will require.
However, due to various transformations that are occurring in employment companies find it increasingly difficult to release students on to traditional modes of study or attendance. This factor, coupled with the high cost of delivery and the associated costs of equipment and capital, make NVQ and VQ financially unattractive to institutions.
Many colleges are developing very creative and innovative approaches through strategic partnerships with employers, and it is essential that colleges revise their traditional methods of teaching and learning and work with employers to establish effective work-based provision.
Links with the Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) and the emerging programmes around Modem Apprenticeship are offering colleges greater opportunity to develop strong partnerships with the Councils and employers in science and technology-related disciplines. However, the current funding and economics of these developments are based on minimal resourcing. As we live in an increasingly scientific and technological world, it is essential that the funding methodologies are more realistically developed.
This country needs to increase the stock and flow of highly qualified people into science, whether these be at graduate or technician level. At the heart of this endeavour are vocational awards, and it is important that they receive the recognition and funding that will allow them to blossom instead of continuing to decline.
Unless the situation is quickly improved, a great deal of valuable vocational science will disappear within the FE and HE sectors, and once ceased will never return. The scientific community and the country will be, as a result, poorer for this demise.
Dick Evans is Principal of Stockport College. He chairs the ASE Post-16 Science Committee.