Colleges are bracing themselves for a massive acceleration in student recruitment over the next four years after the government revealed details of its further education expansion plans.
Department for Education and Employment figures released this week explain how colleges should achieve the expansion signalled last week by education secretary David Blunkett.
Colleges were taken aback when Mr Blunkett used the comprehensive spending review announcement for the three years 1999 to 2002 to tell the sector that it should seek to enrol an extra 700,000 students by 2001-02. This was a 200,000 increase on the target set by Tony Blair last year.
Examination of the DFEE details has revealed that colleges may have to recruit around an extra 200,000 students this year, which is not part of the CSR settlement, to meet the new target.
College spokesmen are alarmed since this is up massively on the earlier target set in the DFEE's annual report in March this year. This proposed an extra 20,000 full-time equivalent students, which comes to between 60,000 and 80,000 individuals.
DFEE figures reveal that colleges should aim to recruit 178,000 more students next year than this year. Recruitment targets for this year are still to be announced but a DFEE spokeswoman said that it was hoped that the sector will have expanded by between 350,000 and 400,000 by the end of next year.
This indicates that the government may expect colleges to recruit about an extra 200,000 students this year. Next year's targets were expected to be released as The THES went to press.
The DFEE has also confirmed that it would like to see another 100,000 students in 2000-01. This would bring total extra students by the end of 2000-01 to about 450,000 to 500,000, leaving a further expansion of some 200,000 in 2001-02. This would achieve the 700,000 extra students in further education compared to 1997-98.
Colleges will receive an extra Pounds 180 million for widening participation in 1999-2000 and a further Pounds 155 million in 2000-01.
Therefore the total colleges budget for widening participation will be Pounds 335 million higher in 2000-01 than it is this year.
Actual government spending over the same two years will be Pounds 515 million because it has to pay Pounds 180 million in 1999-2000 and then Pounds 335 million for 2000-01. Figures for 2001-02 are not yet available.
The government will also spend an extra Pounds 183 million on student support over the next two years.
Similarly, the colleges' total capital budget will be Pounds 100 million higher in 2001-02 with Pounds 40 million in 1999-2000 increased to Pounds 55 million the following year and then to Pounds 100 million.
Total government capital spending over the three years will be Pounds 195 million.