College heads have condemned a cut in university funding for foundation degrees, which they say will deal a major blow to further education colleges delivering higher education.
Colleges fear that as funding for foundation degrees dries up, universities will stop passing on money to them to provide the degrees, keeping the funding that remains to pay for their own provision.
This could leave colleges forced to deliver the qualifications on a shoestring, with many courses supported only by student tuition fees, it has been claimed.
Derek Longhurst, chief executive of Foundation Degree Forward (FDF), a body that supports partnerships between employers and universities, said plans unveiled last month by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to cut funding for foundation degrees would hit colleges indirectly funded by partner universities the hardest.
“It’s likely to hit the colleges more than anyone. The higher education institutions that validate the most foundation degrees would lose the most funding, and it’s obvious that this is likely to be pushed on to their partner colleges,” he said.
He added that this threatened to derail the government skills agenda.
The proposed cuts, which Hefce is consulting on, are part of measures planned to save £180 million from the higher education budget in 2010-11.
Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), was also concerned.
“With funding coming under pressure, it would be quite understandable if universities did not want to send the money on to colleges. They might want to hold the money in-house themselves. We are very concerned about the future of foundation degrees, which have proved to be very successful and have widened participation.”
He suggested that it would be better if all higher education courses delivered in colleges were funded directly by Hefce, adding that colleges “are very cost effective”.
Universities UK and FDF are next month hosting a seminar to assess the impact of reduced funding for foundation degrees, and the delivery of funding for higher education to further education colleges. The date of the event is yet to be announced.
Julian Gravatt, AoC director of research and development, said it was time to argue for more funding, not less, for the vocational degrees, which he said offered a route into work for young people struggling to find jobs during the recession.
“Hefce says that the money can be cut because the target of 100,000 foundation degree students has been met, but this target was set before the recession started and there is now a good case for funding more places,” he said.