Further education was thrown into confusion this week as the government appeared to pledge full funding for growth and then changed its mind.
The Association of Colleges said it had been told by Department for Education and Employment officials that full funding would be provided for extra students on recognised courses.
The promise, made at a briefing last week, was intended to encourage colleges to achieve government targets for 700,000 more students to enter FE by 2002.
But on Wednesday, the DFEE said only partial funding would be available for students taken on over and above recruitment goals.
Both the AoC and the Further Education Funding Council were taken by surprise. The FEFC, which said it had been told nothing about either full or partial funding for growth, was left seeking a meeting with DFEE officials to clarify the situation.
The AoC said the government ought to state publicly what policy it intended to pursue if it wished to win the confidence of the sector.
Colleges were wary of going for rapid expansion after previous policy U-turns had left several struggling to survive, and in some cases brought about financial collapse.
FEFC and DFEE officials said that there had been no official statements on any policy changes on funding growth, and the DFEE said that none were planned.