Colleges are to be named and shamed for poaching students from outside their local areas as part of a drive to encourage local provision.
Tables to be published soon by the Further Education Funding Council are expected to reveal that one college provides education in 138 different local authority districts. In Kent, where local colleges have completed their own research, it has emerged that 75 colleges are operating in an area served by just seven local colleges.
It is also understood that the eight colleges in Birmingham are competing with 230 colleges from outside the region.
The tables will show the areas from which each college draws students, using 1997-98 individual student record data. They will expose colleges providing outside their localities, usually through franchised provision. The tables, it is understood, paint a picture of colleges engaged in distant turf wars despite clear guidance from ministers that colleges should normally stick to their localities.
In a letter to the FEFC chief executive David Melville late last year, Roger Dawe, director general of further and higher education at the Department for Education and Employment, said that the department "is concerned to ensure that franchised arrangements should not normally operate well outside the college's area - and if a college does extend its operations in this way, that should be after consultation with the local college or colleges concerned."
Research done by the Kent Partnership suggests that this is not happening. "We were very surprised to find that we had 75 other 'partners'," said Sue Tember, principal of Canterbury College. "At first I was angry, but if they are providing proper provision as part of a national network, it's fine. We just want to know who they are so we can plan properly."
Although there are no immediate plans to stop existing arrangements, the findings will be followed by initiatives designed to rein in over-reaching providers. The FEFC has established a local priorities group and it is working on a code of practice, which will be put out to consultation in April. The council has announced a new franchising funding tariff that cuts available funding by a third and imposes strict conditions.
Geoff Hall, director of funding and strategy at the FEFC, said: "There has been concern for some time that there is too much distant franchising. But people have been curtailing it."