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Further Education Colleges

During the 1990s Further Education changed significantly with the incorporation of colleges and the creation of the Further Education Funding Council (FEFC) in April 1993. The Higginson Committee of the FEFC set out a clear blueprint in 1996 for the development of Information Learning Technology in the sector and led to national initiatives including QUILT and FERL. With the new Labour Government brought new emphasis on the sector and on technology and led to a major investment of £72M in to the National Learning Network which connected FE colleges to the Higher Education network JANET and provided significant funding for the development and publication of new subject based computer materials.

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Technical and Art College site, Mansfield

now part of West Nottingham College

FE Colleges Incorporation

During the early 90s Government became increasingly concerned that industry was not getting a suitable supply of vocational skills from further education (Wade, 1993). FE was provided in the 1990s by a wide range of organisations. Alongside general FE colleges, there were sixth form colleges, specialist organisations such as agicultural and horticultural colleges, colleges of building, printing, colleges for leamers with Ieaming difficulties and disabilities and adult residential colleges and more. Most of these were run by local authorities with differing funding and priorities based on local needs and concerns, so in 1991 Government announced that FE Colleges were to become independent corporate bodies from April 1993 and the whole sector would be managed centrally by a Further Education Funding Council.

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FEFC's building

Cheylesmore House, Coventry

Further Education Funding Council (FEFC)

The Further and Higher Education Act of 1992 set out the remit for FE colleges and also set up the Further Education Funding Council (FEFC) a central organisation with regional offices and a national headquarters in Coventry. Its first Chief Executive was Sir William Stubbs.

FEFC was first a funding agency providing £3.09 billion to a total of 437 colleges, 52 higher education institutions (HEIs) and 230 adult education centres (1998 figures from Martin et al, (2000, p.5). However the FEFC's remit stretched much further than funding. It was set up to provide leadership and management of the new system. Partly it did this by creating a new funding regime, rewarding colleges when students achieved qualifications as well as when they enrolled. But it also commissioned and scrutinised colleges' strategic plans and assessed and promoted quality improvement through the first ever FE inspectorate. It issued regular circulars about subjects ranging from funding, to govemance, to technology (NIACE, 2009, p.56). Under FEFC stewardship the sector grew - in 1997-98 the Council funded nearly 4 million students up 34 per cent since 1994-95. (Select Committee on Education and Employment, 1999).

National Information Learning Technology Association (NILTA)

peter shuker

Peter Shuker

A number of innovative FE practioners set up a voluntary organisation to encourage college staff to share examples of good practice. Early on it was called the National Association for Information Technology in Further Education (NAITFE) but later on changed to the National Information and Learning Technologies Association. Its founding meeting was in April 1989 and the first national event was a conference in October at the Grand Hotel, Bristol (Wikipedia, 2014b).

The Association elected as Chairman (Peter Shuker - Principal of Darlington College), Vice-Chairman (John Gray - Principal of Newark and Sherwood College) and Treasurer (Chris West). Its national conferences provided a forum for discussion on ILT in FE throughout the nineties and provided speakers from industry and government ministers.

As a group of innovative practioners the Association provided strong support to develop information and learning technologies in FE preceeding government-funded bodies such as the JISC Regional Support Units, BECTA, FERL, LSDA and LSN.

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Sir Gordon Higginson

FEFC Learning and Technology Committee

From the outset the FEFC was interested in new modes of teaching and learning, particularly to increase participation and to drive down costs. The Secretary of State in his guidance letter of July 1992 charged the Council with a responsibility for encouraging the further development of flexible and part-time modes of delivery, including distance learning. (Higginson, 1996, p.35)

The Learning and Technology Committee chaired by Sir Gordon Higginson was established by the FEFC in 1993 to provide it with advice on measures it might take to promote the use of technology to enhance the provision of further education.

The committee was established in 1993. Its membership include:

Following a number of meetings and an interim report the committee's findings and nine recommendations were published in the Report of the Learning and Technology Committee (Higginson report) in January 1996.

It recommended a sectorwide initiative to include:

  • A staff development programme designed to enhance the professional skills of the sector's staff and to alert them to opportunities presented for more effective teaching and learning using modern technologies.
  • Specialist information and advisory centres to evaluate and advise on the use and exploitation of technology to inform learning. Identify areas which might benefit from commissioned materials and establish standards for the development of resources which would be of use to the sector and commercial suppliers·
  • Demonstration projects through which good practice in the application of technology to support learning can be developed and disseminated.
  • Access to a high speed communications network linking the sector's colleges to each other, to relevant national agencies, and to the Internet and other networked information resources and databases.
  • A research programme which provides insights into new ways of using technologies in order to enhance the experience of teachers and students, measures the effectiveness of new approaches to teaching and learning and evaluates the impact of the committee's initiative.

Information Learning Technology (ILT)

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Keith Duckitt

Higginson's recommendations were never fully put together into a sectorwide initiative in the coherent way the report suggested until much later with the National Learning Network. However the report did have immediate impact and the FEFC and colleges began to take this area seriously. The Inspectorate reported that in over half of colleges the Higginson report had led to a review of the college's position on technology support for learning with improved strategies for development (FE Inspectorate, 1998, p17). The sector also adopted a new name and a new set of initials ILT - Information Learning Technology and FEFC began to implement some of the recommendations. Much of this was managed by the FEFC's Head of ICT, Keith Duckitt who was a strong champion of ILT and was responsible for much of the pioneering work done by the Council in the 1990s and beyond. FEFC's requirement for colleges to regularly review information and learning technologies within their strategic plans (Circular 96/34) also raised the profile of technology with FE colleges. The Inspectorate reported in 1998 that:

"Since incorporation many colleges have made substantial investment in computer technology. There are an increasing number of well-equipped and effectively used learning centres in colleges. These offer general curriculum support or support for specific curriculum areas such as engineering, science and modern foreign languages. The facilities include general computer facilities, computer-enhanced learning materials and other equipment for students to use on their own or with staff support. College facilities often include electronic library catalogues. Their potential to provide comprehensive support to students and tutors is sometimes missed. All colleges in the survey have an internet connection for the use of staff or students. The internet has been a significant factor in increasing the use of IT by staff and students." (FE Inspectorate, 1998, p2 )

Quality in Information and Learning Technology - QUILT

The Higginson report placed strong emphasis on staff development and FEFC's response was to consult the sector and then fund a training programme through the Further Education Development Agency (FEDA). This became a five year (1996-2001) national staff development programme called Quality in Information and Learning Technology (QUILT) costing about £5m. Its purpose was to raise the information technology skills of college lecturers and managers and included both day and residential events ranging from ILT awareness to the use of ILT in specific programme areas and technical training such as web design. QUILT was well received by the'FE sector and respondents to a 1998 survey expressed strong satisfaction with QUILT activity. (Donavan and Atwere, 2000, p.68) The programme also supported college-based action projects involving groups of colleges receiving small amounts of money (but adding up to about one-third of the QUILT budget) on a matched basis to undertake developments in a range of ILT area., such as key skills, intranet
development and online tutoring.

The National Learning Network (NLN)

The change of government in 1997 brought a new emphasis, both to the Further Education sector with an emphasis on lifelong learning and skills and to the use of technology within initiatives such as the University for Industry, NGfL etc. In its first comprehensive spending review, the government recognised the need to give additional support to the FE sector to ensure that all colleges were properly equipped for the computer age. In 1998, £74 million of government funding was allocated over three years for IT infrastructure development in FE. (Martin et al, 2000, p.7 )

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The FEFC's ILT committee of college principals and experts ( FEILT) carried out strategic planning for the investment. The committee produced an ILT development strategy for the sector entitled Networking Lifelong Learning, endorsed by the FEFC in June 1999 and produced the FEFC's ILT Implementation Plan (outlined in the FEFC circular 99/45).

The NLN initiative was delivered by a strategic partnership of sector bodies including: FEFC, FEDA (later renamed the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA), JISC, NILTA, BECTA and UKERNA.

In summary, the activities in the NLN programme involved (Wilson, 2005, p.70):

  • Connecting all colleges to the JANET infrastructure by 2001 (UKERNA)
  • Setting up the Regional Support Centres (JISC);
  • Researching the specification of MLEs (JISC);
  • Procuring and developing national leaming materials (BECTA);
  • Setting up an ILT subject mentors programme (BECTA);
  • Setting up an ILT champions programme (BECTA);
  • Developing materials standards (BECTA);
  • Developing ILT standards (FEDA/LSDA);
  • Supporting innovative projects (FEDA/LSDA);
  • Evaluating the NLN (FEDA/LSDA).
  • Auditing and mapping the content and materials (FEDA/LSDA);
  • Setting up a technician training programme (FEFC/LSC);
  • Investigating the feasibility of a central resources bank (NILTA);
  • Measuring LAN standards (NILTA).

FEFC became a full member of JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) and FE colleges became part of the JANET network (see below). The initiative began in 1999 and the Government's total investment in the NLN totalled £156 million over a five-year period.

A large programme of learning materials development would be set up under the name of National Learning Network (NLN) to enable Further Education and the Adult and Community Learning (ACL) sectors to make best use of JANET and the enhanced ICT resources that these sectors enjoyed. A substantial body of work was developed by colleges, universities and commercial organisations and were made available to all qualifying parties. NLN has played a significant role in the adoption of Information and Learning Technology (ILT) by the post-16 education sectors in the UK.

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Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)

JISC was established on 1 April 1993 through letters of guidance from the Secretaries of State to the newly established Higher Education Funding Councils for England, Scotland and Wales, asking them to establish a Joint Committee to deal with networking and specialist information services, providing vision and leadership to Higher Education as well as running the Joint Academic Network (JANET).

JANET was created in 1984 linking Universities and Higher Education Institutions together electronically. JANET initially offered email, file transfer services, but following expansion and upgrades JANET evolved into SuperJANET, providing a high performance wide-area network and connectivity. The United Kingdom Education and Research Networking Association (UKERNA) was responsible for managing JANET, on behalf of the JISC.

Higher Education was going through its own expansion and change over the 1990s and the incorporation of FE colleges led to increasing partnership and alignment between the sectors. Colleges took on partnerships and franchising arrangements with universities and by 1997, when the Dearing Inquiry into HE reported, approximately 10 per cent of HE learners were in FE ( NIACE, 2009, p58). By 1999 FEFC's FE ILT Committee reported that the JANET network was provided to the 72 colleges funded directly for HE courses with a further 133 colleges having JANET links, mostly through a neighbouring university. Closer working between the two sectors resulted in FE sector representatives sitting on JISC committees to ensure that proper account was taken of the FE perspective in ILT developments.

With the NLN FEFC agreed to become a full funding partner of the JISC who set up Regional Support Centres (RSCs) to help facilitate the connection of Universities and FE colleges onto JANET and to promote the take up of JISC's network services and resources in the FE and HE communities.


Carvel, J. and Smithers, R., 1999, Mar 10. Millions poured into IT training for all. The Guardian (1959-2003), 18. ISSN 02613077

Caven-Atack, A.,2000, The Evaluation of the National Learning Network' ALT-J Research in Learning Technology Vol 8, No 3 [online]

Donavan K. and Atwere D., 2000, 'QUILT: a case study in the impact of a staff development programme' ALT-] Research in Learning Technology Volume 8 Number 3 [online]

FEFC, 1999a, 'Networking Lifelong Learning: An ILT development strategy for FE -A consultation report prepared by the FE Information and Learning Technology Committee', Further Education Funding Council [online]

FEFC, 1999b, 'Circular 99/45 ILT Implementation Plan', Further Education Funding Council [online]

FE Inspectorate, 1998, 'The Use of Technology to Support Learning in College - National Survey Report' FEFC [online]

Higginson G., 1996, Report of the Learning and Technology Committee, Further Education Funding Council [online]

Joyce Martin, John Brown, Jean MacDonald and Meg Gain, 2000, 'Further Education in Transition', Research in Learning Technology Vol 8, No 3 [online]

NIACE, 2009, IFLL Sector Paper 7 'FE Colleges in a New Culture of Adult and Lifelong Learning' [online]

Select Committee on Education and Employment, 1999, Minutes of Evidence Appendix 14- Memorandum from The Further Education Funding Council, [online]

Wade, G., 1993, Mar 02. Aiming to reverse failure trend. The Guardian (1959-2003), 2. ISSN 02613077.

West Nottingham College [online]

Wikipedia 2014a 'National Learning Network' [online]

Wikipedia 2014b ' AoC NILTA' [online]

Wilson J., 2005, 'Embedding Technologies into Institutional Practices: A Further Education Perspective' in
Seale J. K. Learning Technology in Transition: from Individual Enthusiasm to Institutional Implementation
CRC Press, 2005