Colleges squeezed to take students

July 25, 1997

AN EXTRA Pounds 50 million could be spent educating students in high-cost colleges next year because of budget cuts and funding inequities, writes Alan Thomson.

A leading principal has said that students may have to be educated in colleges with high unit costs, when they could have been taught in cheaper institutions if the demand-led element (DLE) from college budgets had not been axed.

DLE had part-paid colleges for expansion beyond agreed targets. Since much of this extra student provision was franchised, DLE-reliant colleges tended to have significantly lower unit costs.

Keith Wymer, principal of Bilston Community College, said that it faces a Pounds 4.5 million cut in the 1997/98 budget largely because of the loss of DLE. The college will be funded for just 30,000 students in an area which has more than 100,000 potential students. This means that nearly 80,000 people will miss out. It is estimated that some 250,000 student places will go unfunded across the sector.

Mr Wymer said that he had been approached by five colleges asking him to transfer some of these 80,000 students to them. He said that they were having difficulty recruiting and were worried about having funds clawed back.

The problem is that while Bilston has an average level of funding (ALF) of around Pounds 10, these colleges have ALFs of between Pounds 15 and Pounds 16. This means that if Bilston transferred just 15,000 students to the higher ALF institutions, then it would effectively cost the state an extra Pounds 2.5 million. Sector-wide this could amount to Pounds 50 million.

Mr Wymer said: "It is extremely likely that this could happen. We would have nothing to lose by transferring since we cannot afford to educate these students. Effectively it means that higher ALF colleges would be shored up by the funding council while we are penalised for expanding our provision. That cannot be right."

The anomaly could be resolved if the Further Education Funding Council moved immediately to a single ALF for all colleges. The council plans to converge ALFs by 2000/200. Any sooner would create serious problems for colleges with high ALFs, which can exceed Pounds 25, being brought down to an average of around Pounds 17.

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