Colleges see disaster ahead

March 28, 2003

College principals have warned the Learning and Skills Council it is in danger of recreating "funding nightmares" of the past, as further education enters the tenth anniversary of its incorporation.

The Association of Colleges is "not convinced" that LSC plans to introduce a new funding-and-performance monitoring regime to back the government's Success for All further education strategy will be either efficient or workable.

In a highly critical response to the proposals, the AoC warns that with its multitude of performance targets and reviews, the regime is unlikely to achieve the aim of cutting red tape.

The LSC's proposals could also put some colleges into a downward financial spiral and will increase the risk of data manipulation and disputes within the sector, the AoC says.

And the brief time scale the LSC has set for putting its plans into effect, with implementation scheduled for August, is likely to mean that colleges will have insufficient time to prepare for it and train staff to work with it, it adds.

AoC chief executive David Gibson said he was concerned it could lead to repetition of mistakes made at the time of incorporation, when the changes were rushed through without time for training, and auditing demands were piled on as things started to go wrong.

He said: "My real worry with the LSC's timetable is, when will there be time to do the training? Who is going to train directors of finance and make sure that management information systems are right? I cannot think of anything more disastrous than trying to impose a new funding system that, instead of helping to achieve the targets in Success for All, just becomes a funding nightmare."

The LSC proposes to allow many new targets to be tailored according to local circumstances. Colleges' funding will be directly affected by their performance against the targets.

The AoC's response paper adds that the regime will "inevitably lead to growing divergence in funding levels between institutions, with the risk that less favoured institutions will find it increasingly hard to improve performance to the level of the best".

Proposals for an annual performance review will undermine the benefits of a new three-year funding cycle, and demands for more management information could lead to "an increasingly burdensome accountability regime, characterised by a high level of intervention in the detailed management of colleges", the AoC says.

Rob Wye, LSC programme director for Success for All, said the number of targets would be limited, depending on each college.

"The difference between the LSC and the old Further Education Funding Council is that we have local working relationships with colleges and we are not about the bureaucratic imposition of returns of information," he said.

Mr Wye admitted the timetable was tight. But he added: "If we do not do it from this autumn, then it would have to wait until 2005-06, which ministers would not be prepared to do."

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