Funding cuts hit nearly nine out of ten further education colleges this week, casting doubt on the future of some institutions and blighting the educational hopes of tens of thousands of students.
The Further Education Funding Council's provisional allocations for 1997/98 mean that there will be no funding for around 40,000 full-time students. The average cut for colleges will be about Pounds 100,000 with half facing far bigger reductions.
The FEFC says that 86 per cent (360) of the 418 colleges face cuts. For about 40 institutions the cuts will be between 5 and 10 per cent which, assuming an average budget of Pounds 7 million, could amount to Pounds 700,000.
The average efficiency gain implied is 7.6 per cent, 2.6 per cent higher than the level implied by last November's public spending settlement. Only 58 colleges (14 per cent) will receive an increase in funding.
The Association of Colleges said that it was difficult to see how many institutions would cope with further efficiency savings. The association will protest to the FEFC.
John Brennan, the AoC's director of FE development, said: "No doubt it will lead to a further round of cost-cutting including the shedding of staff. The 7.6 per cent efficiency gain raises serious concerns about the viability of some institutions."
John Akker, general secretary of lecturers' union Natfhe, is raising the issue with the leaders of the main political parties. Mr Akker said: "The allocations represent a further devastating blow for the sector and will mean further job losses and a worse deal for students."
The funding council said it had had no choice after the Government announced that it would cease paying the demand-led element (DLE) of funding from the end of this teaching year. The decision cuts about Pounds 100 million from the total available for next year, money it would have used to increase access.
It decided to spread the cut across all colleges and set aside Pounds 70 million to soften the blow. This gives each college a maximum of Pounds 350,000 for student growth above agreed levels next year.
The FEFC's total budget for 1997/98 is Pounds 3.07 billion but about 90 per cent is committed to core activities. The remaining Pounds 315 million will be shared among the colleges. Institutional allocations will be finalised later this month and released in early May.
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