Britain's further education sector lacks competition and requires more innovation to help students improve their employment prospects, a paper published today by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has claimed.
The CBI report singles out the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) as the body primarily responsible for these failures, saying it is not acting pro-actively enough to improve choice in the education market.
It argues that the LSC could diversify options available to students facing mediocre "coasting" courses whose standards are only just acceptable. By fostering greater competition overall standards would rise, the report claims.
"The government needs to create a level playing field, with the LSC commissioning the best provision regardless of who is providing it, and give clear signals to the market that it will reward success and not tolerate failure," commented the CBI's director of public services, Dr Neil Bentley.
"We need well educated and well trained employees, so we cannot have a system of further education that spends £5 billion a year yet allows sub-standard courses to continue and does not engage with employers to establish their needs. It is not fair on the students or on the taxpayer."
But colleges rejected the CBI's findings, criticising the report for relying "heavily" upon its 2005 employment trends survey which highlighted a majority of employers dissatisfied with education levels among those they were recruiting.
"The real challenge is not so much improving what colleges do as helping them do more of it," argued Dr John Brennan, chief executive of the Association of Colleges.
"This means expanding capacity and persuading government, more employers and more individuals to invest in their training and development."
He contrasted the CBI survey with the government's National Employer Skills survey, which found 95 per cent of employers are satisfied with college training levels.
“We do need to scotch once and for all the myth that college quality is anything but exemplary and that colleges do not successfully engage with employers," he said.