THE Further Education Funding Council is facing a legal challenge over "unfair" budgets which have been slashed at some colleges by up to 20 per cent over the last year.
Bilston College in the West Midlands is seeking a judicial review to obtain between Pounds 3 and Pounds 4 million which it claims it has been unfairly denied in its 1997/98 allocation. Five other colleges facing similar levels of cuts are supporting the unprecedented action.
Bilston principal Keith Wymer said already this year some 25,000 students who are unable to pay tuition fees had been denied places at the college. "I didn't want to go to court but if we don't get some changes, the only people who are going to be able to come here are those who can pay," he said.
Bilston serves an area of high unemployment. In its legal challenge it will claim if all Bilston students had received the average level of FEFC funding between 1993 and 1997 it would have been Pounds 28 million better off by now. Its provisional allocation will support 30,000 students but the college claims there is demand for 100,000.
A spokesman for the FEFC said the council was "very sympathetic" but said: "Naturally we would be very disappointed should the college seek to spend public funding on judicial processes before procedures between the college and council had been exhausted", In a separate inquiry Dewsbury College in West Yorkshire is to make a quarter of its staff redundant next month while it is in dispute with the FEFC over funding.
The FEFC claims the college has missed its recruitment targets but principal Vince Hall says he is having to recruit students against provisional figures and must cope with Pounds 1 million less funding for the coming year, a loss of 10 per cent.