Funding chiefs claimed this week that further education will soon be back on target for recruiting more students, writes Tony Tysome. This is despite numbers falling for two consecutive years.
The recovery will be fuelled by massive demand for University for Industry and IT short-course places, the Further Education Funding Council predicted.
FEFC director of funding and strategy, Geoff Hall, told The THES that unpublished figures showed that there could be double the number of expected UfI enrolments next year.
"All the signs are of tremendous pent-up demand for colleges offering IT and UfI courses," he said.
The UfI confirmed that bids from colleges for the second development phase, which runs until July, had exceeded earmarked funding, although demand was not yet double expectations.
The initiative begins in earnest from August, when Pounds 20 million of UfI funding will come on stream.
Introductory programmes for IT courses, including UfI, are part of a range of new strategies drawn up by the FEFC to encourage growth in student numbers.
An FEFC report says that an earlier than expected increase in numbers of adult students, which dropped by 0.9 per cent between November 1998 and November 1999, may be generated by the UfI.
Recruitment boosts are also expected through extra funding for education maintenance allowances for 16-19 year olds, and new study options available through Curriculum 2000.
The optimistic forecast was echoed by the Association of Colleges, which suggested that UfI and IT course success stories would follow growth in other targeted areas, which had been backed by extra funding.
However, David Gibson, AoC chief executive, said unexpected demand for UfI courses would have to be carefully analysed to check whether "extra" adult learners were simply those who had dropped out of other courses.
The predictions came as the National Audit Office published a report on managing finances in English colleges, which warns that 13 per cent of institutions are still in poor financial health.
The report says that while some external factors play a significant role in determining financial health, such as weaknesses inherited at incorporation or the type of students a college has, the way in which institutions are managed and governed is a key factor.
It recommends closer monitoring by governors; accurate management information and detailed management accounts; clear and consistent costing policies and benchmarking of costs; and comparative benchmarking information and twice-yearly audits by the FEFC.