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Labour grasps nettle

The Labour Party is hastening publication of its long-awaited further and higher education policy paper to avoid being overtaken by the Government's own review of higher education.

As Labour leader Tony Blair put his Shadow Cabinet on a war footing this week, David Blunkett, his education spokesman, warned that post-compulsory education and training remained "a significant gap" in the party's policies.

An internal party paper says it is time for Labour to spell out how it intends to improve further and higher education provision and training opportunities to place the "skills revolution" at the heart of its programme for national renewal.

The paper proposes a consultative policy document on lifetime learning "enshrining the principle of access for all, contributing to economic renewal, and providing for quality, equity, continuity and accountability".

Bryan Davies, Labour's further and higher education spokesman, has spent nearly 18 months re-writing a policy paper which was ditched just before the party's 1993 annual conference. He may now be called on to speed up the process.

The consultative document will put forward proposals for the reform of further and higher education funding, including options for changing the student loans and discretionary awards systems.

The paper says that in the longer term, the party may wish to address the Social Justice Commission's proposals for a "learning bank" - a learning entitlement financed by both students and employers.

The document will also review links between FE providers, local authorities, Training and Enterprise Councils, and regional government departments; and examine the scope for rationalisation of the 14 to 19-year-old qualifications framework.

In higher education, the paper notes that the socio-economic importance of the sector has grown "considerably" in the past decade. But it calls for widening access in the system, with an overhaul of the student support system and a fresh look at the balance between students living at home and those living away, as well as the important role of information technology.

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