Further education: colleges are fighting funding cuts by expanding links with local business and rural communities
FUNDING tensions between further and higher education grew this week as principals hailed improved college performance in the face of a financial crisis that they claim dwarfs university cash problems.
Roger Ward, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, welcomed the latest performance indicators from the Further Education Funding Council. Mr Ward said that student access and achievement had improved despite crumbling buildings, growing class sizes and poor equipment.
He said: "There is a huge amount of suspicion in the further education sector that the alleged funding crisis in higher education is nowhere near as serious as that in further education.
"If I were the Treasury and the leaders of further and higher education claimed they were in financial crisis I would want to look at the facts. I would then be forced to conclude that more money per student is going to higher education."
Mr Ward said that public funding for further education was set to fall to less than Pounds 3 billion by 2000 ,compared to just over Pounds 3 billion at present. The sector will be hard hit in 1997/98 because of the loss of the demand-led element of funding, which had part-paid colleges for students recruited above agreed targets.
Principals hope that the latest FEFC indicators will help the sector's claim for more state funding from this autumn's public expenditure settlement. Such optimism will not reassure higher education, which fears that some of the money raised through undergraduate tuition fees could be diverted to further education.
FEFC figures showed that England's 439 colleges taught an extra 500,000 people in 1995/96, taking the council-funded student population to 2.7 million. Full-time student numbers grew by 5 per cent and part-time numbers by 21 per cent between 1994/95 and 1995/96. Yet average levels of funding per unit of education delivered by colleges fell from Pounds 18.65 to Pounds 17.95.
While drop-out rates rose slightly, which the FEFC says may be due to more accurate monitoring by colleges rather than actual students leaving, more of those staying on to complete courses achieved the qualifications they wanted.
In all 73 per cent of students who completed their courses in 1995/96 achieved their qualificational goals, 3 per cent more than 1994/95.
The FEFC performance indicators show that despite college budget cuts more than three-quarters of institutions met or surpassed their agreed targets, indicating accurate forecasting and sound management.