College funding chiefs may not be able to meet their legal duty to ensure "adequate and sufficient" provision in the East Midlands as the region's colleges suffer financial crises.
The Further Education Funding Council's East Midlands regional committee has advised the FEFC that "the duty to secure the sufficiency and adequacy of further education provision could be at risk in some areas because of the weak financial health of a small number of colleges."
The committee, covering Derbyshire, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, examined the strategic plans and forecasts of the region's 40 colleges. It found that although the region received Pounds 500 million for 1999-2000 - Pounds 21.4 million more than the previous year - the fiscal state of the East Midlands was "slightly worse than the sector as a whole".
The increase, at 4.5 per cent, was less than the 5.6 per cent increase nationally. And the East Midlands saw a decline in full-time student numbers in 1998-99. In Greater Nottinghamshire, for example, they fell 13 per cent between 1997-98 and 1998-99.
Ministers' clamp-down on provision provided through franchises had hit part-time student numbers badly in a region with some of the sector's largest franchisers, including Clarendon College Nottingham, and in a region where more than 20 per cent of students are on franchised courses.
There was a per cent decline in the number of students on franchised provision, with a further 8 per cent decrease projected for 1999-2000. "This is likely to be in response to the council's reduced level of funding for franchised provision for 1999-2000," the committee said.
Part-time numbers on construction courses fell 41 per cent, compared with 6 per cent nationally, because of colleges' withdrawal from franchised provision.