M25 belt tightening on FE cash

February 14, 1997

What does tertiary education do for London? Not a lot, says one report. In another of our series of regional focuses, THES reporters look for a sense of community within the M25 area.

Greater London, with its high concentration of colleges, its mixture of funding levels and varied student market, is a microcosm of further education issues nationwide.

It is the most compact region in the country and one of the most populated in the European Union, serving a student body that ranges from refugees and long-term unemployed adults in the inner city to motivated sixth-formers in the suburbs.

Retention is a problem in many areas, because of its transient population and high levels of student hardship.

Many colleges also have high deficits, some of which were inherited from local authorities or are part of building programmes.

But the key contentious issue, as always, is funding.

A committee, chaired by Helena Kennedy QC, into widening participation in the sector is now considering whether London should continue to receive its extra weighting allowance.

Michael Shoefield, principal at the College of North West London, said: "We believe London colleges have an exceptionally high order of costs that wouldn't be found elsewhere in the sector.

"General problems affecting further education are made worse by inner-city problems, the state of the buildings, poverty of the students, and difficulties of retention."

But Celia Cohen, head of the Further Education Funding Council Greater London office, said: "They may be spending more but we haven't yet resolved whether the actual costs are higher."

The council argues that there is no evidence to suggest location is a critical factor in determining costs for colleges.

In London, 7 per cent of those aged between 16 and 60 participate in further education part-time - in line with the national average and slightly less than the participation rate for other regions with large urban conurbations.

In 1994-95, 8 per cent of full-time further education in Greater London was in basic education - double the proportion for England as a whole - while part-time basic education accounted for 17 per cent of the provision in the area, compared with 10 per cent nationally.

With the high concentration of Government and public sector offices in the capital, this leaves a serious skills gap.

Competition for students nevertheless remains fierce because of London's high concentration of different education institutions.

The volatile market this creates has encouraged more than half the colleges to prepare contingency plans, compared with less than 40 per cent in the rest of the country.

Finances are made more precarious by the large number of asylum seekers, refugees and other overseas students in the capital.

The FEFC is still waiting for feedback from colleges about the possible impact of new Government legislation that means a lot of asylum seekers can no longer have their fees paid. Many fear the new rules could dramatically decrease student numbers in the capital.

All these factors vary considerably within the M25 belt.

The existence of extremes of poverty side by side with extremes of affluence means statistics describing the capital can be misleading. More even than most regions, Greater London presents not a coherent picture but a mosaic.

* So what do you do for london? The thes puts HE institutions on the spot

DEIAN HOPKIN

vice provost at London Guildhall University, said the university's future depended on the local community. It is heavily involved in European Community funded regeneration projects in the capital's inner east. As part of the Pounds 50-million Eastside project in Tower Hamlets, Guildhall is working with London University's Queen Mary and Westfield College on a Pounds 5.5-million scheme to transform the Fawcett Library, a specialist women's collection, into a major international research library and conference centre. Another scheme is aimed at tackling graduate unemployment among ethnic minorities in east London. Dr Hopkin said a decision on funding for a Pounds 4.5-million joint FE/HE multimedia mini-science park at Hackney Community College is expected soon. A multimedia centre and a small business advisory centre are already operating in Shoreditch.

LESLIE HANNAH

pro-director of the London School of Economics, said the school was a global institution as much as a British one. "We reflect our region, but our region is London and the world."

SIR DEREK ROBERTS

provost of University College, also places the college on the world stage and vies with Cambridge and Oxford for top students and academics. UCL, along with two other University of London members, Imperial College and the LSE, are part of the Russell Group of 17 "elite" research institutions.

RAOUL FRANKLIN

vice chancellor of City University, believes City's 1,200 overseas students made a significant contribution to the London economy. In the past, City played a more direct role - it owned a company that manufactured gas sensors. Professor Franklin said the venture was arguably the most successful university company until it was sold off five years ago. The institution employs 1500 full-time staff and has a Pounds 70-million turnover.

STEPHEN HOLT

the rector of Roehampton Institute, said the college was the largest employer in the borough of Wandsworth after the NHS and had an annual turnover of Pounds 30 million, including student residence and catering income. Along with two other universities, it was involved in a Pounds 4.5-million A to Z Training and Enterprise Council project to improve information technology skills for London school students. Professor Holt said a new research centre on Asian enterprise will open later this month, and a building and renovation programme, due to be completed this summer, had injected Pounds 20 million into the local economy.

JOE OMEROD

head of marketing at Middlesex University, said the university was involved in Government and EU programmes aimed at regenerating East London and the Lea Valley. It has established five centres in the area offering consultancies in fields such as design and business and environment. It is also involved in a consortium of six local authorities, six colleges, four universities, three TECs plus voluntary and private sector firms to establish a teleregion. Project leader Peter Newby said the project provided a framework for fostering a new industrial base in telematics and multimedia.

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