More than one in four colleges is suffering "acute financial difficulties", the highest figure yet, according to the Further Education Funding Council.
The figure, up from 6 per cent in 1994 to over 25 per cent in 1998, will be confirmed in an FEFC national quality assessment committee report, due to be published in mid-May. The report, already received by the FEFC council, warns that "more than a quarter of colleges are now experiencing acute financial difficulties, raising concerns for the future viability of provision".
The Association of Colleges, also launched a campaign this week to ensure that further education wins the lion's share of any new public money after the government's forthcoming comprehensive spending review. It is expecting to meet ministers soon to reiterate its demand for a minimum additional Pounds 359 million for the college sector in 1999-2000, rising to Pounds 715 million by 2001-02.
The AoC will demand that public money be redistributed to colleges at the expense of universities. The AoC's "Awareness and Impact Campaign" will complain that tuition costs are 80 per cent higher in universities than they are in further education, at Pounds 4,650 per full-time student in universities compared with Pounds 2,570 per student in colleges. And that only Pounds 70 a year is available in student support to college students, compared with over Pounds 2,000 for university students.
"We have reams of statistics that show that access to university is very heavily weighted towards the socially advantaged," said AoC director of further education development John Brennan.