Funding merger warning

December 1, 1995

Rumours of the possible merger of the higher and further education funding councils have set alarm bells ringing in both the college and university sectors.

Ruth Gee, chief executive of the Association for Colleges, told principals at their annual conference last week that any moves to merge the two bodies would not be in colleges' interests and that she would fight any proposals that might emerge. "Let's be less compliant in the future," she told delegates.

The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals reflected her reaction and said it doubted whether vice chancellors would support such a move.

"There would almost certainly be a feeling that this would be a merger too soon and too far," said a CVCP spokesman. "The Higher Education Funding Council is dealing with a defined sector and it would not make a great deal of sense to open that up."

The AFC said the idea had been mooted "cross party" since there were growing numbers of further education students studying in the higher education sector and vice versa.

"In theory there is plausible logic in the idea but in practice we would be opposed to it," said an AFC spokeswoman.

The fear is not only that any merged funding council would be unwieldy but that universities would dominate.

"They obviously have more status and there is a danger that we would be small fish and our interests would be obscured," the AFC added.

As mass education moves FE colleges closer towards the "community university" model - covering everything from special needs to postgraduate education - there could be sense in a funding merger but this would be in the distance, according to the AFC.

"Many colleges are thinking in that direction as a way forward but we have a long way to go," the AFC said.

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