Quality threat in fiscal crisis

May 22, 1998

A firm message to the government to be "realistic" about its future funding for colleges has been delivered by the Further Education Funding Council, as it confirmed this week that more than a quarter of colleges face financial crisis, up from 6 per cent in 1994, writes Phil Baty.

The FEFC's annual quality assessment committee report, published this week, says that the rising proportion of colleges in acute financial difficulties is "chief among some worrying trends" that threaten quality.

The warning comes just weeks before the Treasury sets out spending plans in its comprehensive spending review.

"The committee has concerns that financial stringencies and meeting demands for growth will jeopardise provision for students," the report says. "If the sector is to meet the objectives set for itI the government has to be realistic in its financial provision."

The paper, based on 1996-97 inspection reports, identifies the areas the sector must address urgently: quality, curriculum, teaching and management.

The report laments "persistent weaknesses" in students' qualifications. In the worst cases, more than half of students fail to achieve their qualification goals. The report calls for a more modular qualifications structure to allow credit accumulation.

The increasing use of part-time teachers is criticised as many "do not have appropriate teaching qualifications and experience". Too few middle managers have relevant management qualifications, the FEFC report says, and management information systems are flawed. Poor funding for equipment in areas such as engineering is also a serious concern.

Changes to the funding structure should be developed to reward students' achievement and to encourage key skills provision, the report concludes.

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