THOUSANDS of further education college applicants had their hopes dashed this year as cuts cast a shadow on government plans to expand educational opportunity.
A snapshot survey by the Association of Colleges shows that the number of enrolments for general further education colleges fell by 13 per cent between 1996/97 and this academic year. This means that across the whole general further education sector as many as 30,000 fewer applicants may be enrolled this year than last, although many colleges are still recruiting.
More than a third of the 91 general further education colleges responding to the survey (around a third of the total) said that they had dropped courses or subjects due to funding or capacity constraints this year. The main reason has been the loss of the demand-led element of funding that provided funding for colleges seeking to absorb extra demand.
John Brennan, the AoC's director of further education development, said: "We expressed anxieties when the DLE decision was taken by the previous government, saying that it would lead to a reduction in learning opportunities available. This survey shows that this is happening.
"If the new government does want the sector to deliver the major portion of the extra 500,000 students for further and higher education then it must put the resources in."
The AoC has told the government the sector needs an extra Pounds 231 million just to stay afloat in 1998/99 and more in later years. Recent Further Education Funding Council figures show that more than half of the 439 council-funded colleges are in a financially vulnerable or weak position.
The association has praised colleges for "valiantly trying" to maintain opportunity, but says that its statutory duty to secure sufficient facilities for full-time students aged 16 to 19 could be at risk in some areas.