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The Corporation

Posted: 10/07/09

Government official highlights colleges’ role in building better communities

Colleges are playing an increasingly vital role in regenerating communities and ensuring their future prosperity.

That was the message from Peter Housden, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Communities and Local Government, during an address to business leaders across Mansfield and Ashfield.

Mr Housden gave the keynote speech at West Nottinghamshire College’s annual stakeholder event, where he stressed the importance of local partnerships and college principals fulfilling a community leadership role.

The government official also acknowledged the role of colleges in society as “not only about providing individual skills but about providing the social capital and social glue that binds communities together.”

He said: “Leading colleges like West Nottinghamshire College make a really powerful contribution to skills and building community values and cohesion, and helping communities move forward.”

More than 70 people attended the event – held on Tuesday June 30 at Goosedale Conference and Banqueting Centre, Papplewick, Nottinghamshire – including high-profile business leaders from Mansfield and Ashfield, delegates from Nottinghamshire County Council and Mansfield District Council, school headteachers, local GPs and managers from the college.

VIPs in attendance included Sir Andrew Buchanan, Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire; Paul Southby, Regional Director of the Confederation of British Industry; and Roger Begy OBE, Chairman of the LSC East Midlands Regional Council.

Speakers at the event, themed ‘Revitalising Communities: Our Role in Ensuring Community Cohesion and Economic Prosperity’, included Jean Hardy, Chair of the college’s Corporation Board, and Asha Khemka OBE, Principal and Chief Executive.

Peter Housden emphasis the role of colleges in communities

Peter Housden emphasis the role of colleges in communities

Mrs Khemka told the audience: “We have worked hard over the last few years in transforming the College’s reputation and standing within the communities it serves.  Our task now extends much wider than just our own growth and success – it is about providing that local leadership in making our full contribution in ensuring our community’s future and, in turn, the competitiveness of the nation.”

She described colleges as often laying “at the very heart of our communities” and being “uniquely placed to bring together the individual and society.”

“We are a community in our own right.  We are a place where students from diverse backgrounds come together, where horizons are broadened and lifelong friendships are forged,” she said.

“Working with others, we have the potential to provide the hub for all elements of our community to work together.”

According to Mrs Khemka, the biggest challenge facing colleges were raising participation in education and training, reducing costs and enhancing infrastructures.

Colleges must work more closely with partner agencies to provide opportunities for young people while working more efficiently to ensure more money goes to the “front-line”, insisted Mrs Khemka.

They must also find innovative ways to accelerate much-needed investment in new buildings, she said.

“We must find new ways of working together to ensure that our local community, as well as our nation, remains competitive,” added Mrs Khemka. “Partnerships will be key.  We will not be able to revitalise our community unless we work together.”

Mrs Khemka used her address to challenge business leaders to help the college explore way of resurrecting its plans to build a £96m new campus, following news it had missed out on Learning and Skills Council funding.

The college is now looking at alternative sources of funding to plug the LSC shortfall, as well as considering other ways of developing its estate and facilities.

And speaking after the meeting, Mrs Khemka criticised the LSC for “major inconsistencies” in its handling of the Building Colleges for the Future Scheme and for sending out “mixed messages” to colleges.

“While the LSC now admits it encouraged colleges to ‘think big’ and spend money progressing their applications in detail, it says colleges did so at their own risk,” she said.

“This is contrary to the advice we were given at the time, when it was made clear that such investment was a requirement to get to the advanced stages.

“I’m also disappointed that the LSC and the government appear to be distancing themselves from the crisis when, in reality, somebody is responsible for this.”