Move to end funding split

May 26, 2000

Funding chiefs are considering a more common approach to resourcing further and higher education.

The move aims to do away with "perverse" financial incentives for FE colleges to switch sectors as they take on more higher education work.

David Melville, chief executive of the Further Education Funding Council, has warned that a growing number of colleges may be tempted to apply for HE status as the proportion of their students on higher education courses, including foundation degrees, goes up.

A big incentive to change to HEstatus is research money, currently available only to higher education institutions.

Two specialist further education colleges have recently bid to join the higher education sector: the Arts Institute at Bournemouth and the Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies.

Professor Melville said it would be up to the new Learning and Skills Council to determine its policy on transfers, but he added: "The important issue is that perverse incentives do not exist ... Transfers (should be) done for educational reasons and not simply driven by different funding regimes or access to specialist funds."

FE leaders have been pressing for special funding initiatives, such as money for widening participation, library provision and industry links, to be available on the basis of student numbers.

John Brennan, head of FE development for the Association of Colleges, said:

"There should be parity of funding."

Eddie McIntyre, principal of Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies, said his college was entitled to bid for only six out of 25 Higher Education Funding Council for England funding initiatives, despite being likely to qualify for funding from 22 of them.

Stuart Bartholomew, principal of the Arts Institute at Bourne-mouth, described the funding split as "very, very unfair".

He said: "As we get more HE in FE colleges it is incumbent that our students are funded in the same way. Otherwise, the secretary of state will be selling foundation degrees on the cheap and they will be devalued from the outset."

Stephen Marsden, Hefce's director of institutions, said steps had been taken to open up some special funding to FE colleges as well as bringing funding for teaching HE in FE up to the level of higher education institutions over four years.

Vic Seddon, principal of Croydon College and chairman of the mixed economy group of colleges, said there was a growing case for the creation of a polytechnic sector made up of FE institutions with a high proportion of HE provision.

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