FEFC funding may slow expansion

February 26, 1999

Expansion drives by entrepreneurial colleges will be scuppered under "mechanistic" college funding plans, despite the government's call for an extra 700,000 students, college leaders have warned, writes Phil Baty.

Under a new funding methodology, colleges will no longer be asked to bid for student numbers in a competitive process, the Further Education Funding Council has confirmed. It will prescribe funding units - sharing Pounds 3.2 billion among more than 400 colleges - that colleges will be able to challenge.

College leaders have said the approach is "mechanistic" and will inhibit innovative and entrepreneurial colleges and remove growth opportunities.

John Brennan, policy director of the FEFC, said: "The balance in the new system is towards fixing people's allocations. Flexibility is marginal. There is a risk that you lock funding units into colleges that may not be able to grow and those with growth opportunities are not able to exploit them."

Colleges, which will get their provisional funding allocations in the next two weeks, will be able to challenge the funding council and ask for more growth. Final allocations will be made in May. "But it is not clear how much movement of units there will be," Dr Brennan said. "It is a very mechanistic and arithmetical formula."

Geoff Hall, director of funding and strategy at the FEFC, said there is flexibility in the system. "In the first place, we will be taking account of what colleges are doing this year, in favour of those growing the most. Second, we will be asking, 'can you deliver or not?' Some will say, 'Yes. Can we have more?' It is a question of balance. We want to give money to those who can grow, but not encourage overly competitive behaviour at the expense of other providers."

The methodology has some new features. For the first time, colleges will be encouraged to enrol students above their allocated targets - without funding - at their own discretion with a hint of possible future funding. The extra "unfunded" students will be taken on at the college's expense, but the funding council said that "unfunded students in priority growth areas are likely to be reflected to some extent in allocating growth in 2000-01".

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