The Further Education Funding Council for Wales has warned that expansion will have to slow down if quality is to be maintained.
Further education colleges in Wales have proved remarkably successful in achieving Government targets for expansion and student attainment. Since 1992 student numbers in the sector have grown from about 100,000 to 170,000, and it is expected they will overtake the Welsh Office target of 190,000 by 1998/99.
The number of students gaining qualifications counting towards National Education and Training Targets rose from 50,607 in 1992 to 73,376 in 1994, against a Welsh Office goal of 68,800 for that year.
But tougher times are ahead. Efficiency gains of 4.4 per cent this year are expected to be repeated next year and increased to 6.1 per cent the following year. A 6.4 per cent increase in capital funding this year may seem, to college heads, little compensation for a projected cut of 9 per cent next year and a massive 34.9 per cent in 1998/99.
Growth may also prove difficult to sustain because most of it has taken place in part-time provision, where students are finding it increasingly difficult to secure support through discretionary awards. Participation in part-time day and block-release courses grew by 33 per cent from 1993 to 1995, and in part-time evening courses by 13 per cent in the same period, whereas full-time participation grew by just 8 per cent.
Many are hoping that further improvements will be encouraged through the FE NET project, under which colleges will be connected to the Internet via the Joint Academic Network (JANET) this year. It is expected the project will lead to more widespread use of new information, teaching and learning technologies, creating more flexible opportunities for students.