Colleges are over-stating value of courses

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ON reading Sussex Coast College’s article on funding cuts, my first impression was that we are seeing the first signals of a hefty cut in the vocational provision offered by the college.

The college must now be facing some extremely difficult times. I’m sure that I cannot be the only person wondering how an organisation of that size and structure can survive in its present form, a medium-sized, two campus independent college.

I would imagine that any new build surplus cash is ancient history, borrowing is on the increase, debts are rising, funding streams are drying up and student recruitment seems to be falling. Even waves of redundancies and some quite imaginative income generating schemes do not seem to have steadied the ship.

The article mentions vocational craft courses but the case for young people leaving school and signing up for full time vocational craft courses has never been weaker. The qualifications at the end of these courses are not respected as ‘stand alone’ qualifications by industry.

I doubt if more than 10 per cent of those completing these courses gain employment in the industry for which they have been training, suggesting that the expectations the students are given about the value of their training are not managed in a responsible manner.

As far as the majority of these students are concerned, when their course is finished the students discover that their college has simply enabled them to sign up for another course. At the end of two or three years the funding runs out and most are back to square one.

As the entry requirements for these courses are generally low grade GCSEs or no GCSEs at all, how is the need to improve learners’ basic skills being addressed? Is it half an hour a week with a basic skills tutor or is it all dumped onto the course tutor with the old excuse of ‘the funding has run out’?

I believe colleges are grotesquely overstating the true value of their full-time vocational craft provision to the learners.

A college should be able to produce feedback from local employers endorsing the high standards of its training and provide figures showing not just pass rates but the numbers gaining employment as a result of their training. However, ‘genuine’ apprenticeships for suitable candidates are the only way to sustain a craft skills-base, how many craft apprentices does SCC have on its books ?

Thirty or more years ago, those wishing to learn a trade and become a craftsperson would beat a path to our college workshop door because the old Hastings College, as far as craft skills were concerned was the best in the south east, but we live in very different times now.

Should any employers, recent ex-craft students or their parents be reading this I’m sure many will be nodding in agreement.

PETER BENSON

Quarry Hill

St Leonards