College heads are alarmed at indications that the English funding council is paving the way towards a direct link between quality judgements and funding.
In a written version of his speech to last month's Higher Education Funding Council for England annual conference, Brian Fender, HEFCE chief executive, noted that "the comments that I have had from institutions suggest that the quality assessment judgements are beginning to be strong enough to support a link with funding - in practice almost certainly by the allocation of funded student numbers at the institutional level". But this statement was left out in the speech to the conference.
The Standing Conference of Principals is worried. It has already said in its response to HEFCE's consultation paper on funding teaching that it is "too soon" and "too difficult" to make the link between quality and funding.
"In due course, SCOP feels that while a funding methodology could be used to penalise unsatisfactory quality, excellence should be rewarded outside the funding methodology," it says.
Plans to link quality and funding in teacher training have also alarmed college heads, who say they may set a dangerous precedent.
The Teacher Training Agency's proposals to offer funding incentives to institutions whose courses are judged to be of high quality could prove damaging unless handled with great care, says SCOP.
The TTA's new funding system, which it plans to introduce next year, would place colleges and education departments in one of five quality categories ranging from "excellent" to "unsatisfactory". Top-rated teacher training providers would receive funding bonuses, whereas those in the bottom bands would get no extra money and only provisional places for one year.
John Cater, director of Edge Hill University College and chairman of SCOP's teacher education group, said it could prove very difficult for institutions rated "unsatisfactory" to bring provision up to scratch.
"I think people will support a system that seeks to improve quality, but institutions should be given the opportunity to make improvements without losing resources. Only in extreme cases should they be placed in the lower categories, and they should have the chance to take emergency action," he said.