Expansion in Welsh further education is to be reined back to protect quality.
FE colleges in Wales have already achieved planned growth in funded student numbers for next year, and there is a danger of the system "overheating", said John Andrews, chief executive of the Welsh funding council.
Allocated numbers to be announced by the funding council next month will reflect an attempt to "cool off" this rapid expansion to prevent the slower growing colleges from falling too far behind and to help save the unit of resource from further erosion.
Professor Andrews said: "With efficiency gains year on year there is a danger of the system overheating. We might bring the unit of resource down so rapidly that we might put quality at risk. Also with uneven growth, the slowly growing colleges might be at risk in terms of their financial health."
Colleges which stood still while others raced ahead of growth targets could face cuts over the next three years of up to 40 per cent in capital funding and 15 per cent in recurrent funding, he warned.
Most FE institutions have been prompted to expand rapidly by relatively generous funding from the Welsh Office and special funding council incentives for boosting provision in economically or socially deprived areas. In these deprived areas alone student numbers grew by 30 per cent in 1994/95.
The Welsh FE sector has had a Pounds 2 million cash injection from the Government for capital equipment, and Pounds 1.1 million to promote work considered helpful to the economy. This has supported growth in student numbers from 100,000 in 1992 to 170,000 this year - approaching the Welsh Office target of 190,000 by 1998/99.