THE Department for Education and Employment appears to have washed its hands of a funding row that could leave a further education college fighting a costly court battle, writes Alan Thomson.
The DFEE said that it could not become involved in a dispute between Mid-Kent College of Higher and Further Education and the Fort Bovisand Underwater Centre over the funding of scuba-diving courses.
The decision may lead to the college being sued for up to Pounds 500,000.
David Welsh, who owns the diving centre, had complained to the DFEE about the Further Education Funding Council's decision not to fund basic diving skills courses. They had been run at his centre, near Plymouth, under a franchise agreement with the college, which is based in Chatham. Mr Welsh claimed that they were eligible for funding as they led eventually to a professional diving qualification.
But the DFEE supported the FEFC's decision, pointing out that the council had made it clear to all colleges that such courses would not be eligible. The department said that it would not intervene in the dispute because the relationship between the college and Mr Welsh is governed by contract and should be resolved in court.
A spokeswoman for the FEFC said that the college would have to face the consequences of its failure to heed the original funding warnings. She said that if, as a result of any court action, the college found itself in financial difficulties, then the council would provide advice.
Mr Welsh is considering suing the college, and possibly the FEFC, in a bid to recover the Pounds 500,000 he claims he is owed for courses provided. Meanwhile, the college may sue Mr Welsh in order to recover the money it has paid so far. The college says that, according to the FEFC's own guidelines, it cannot be liable for the costs of any course which the FEFC refuses to fund.