Scotland is to wind down the recent dramatic expansion of its further education sector. The Scottish Further Education Funding Council has set colleges' funding package for 2002-03 at £414 million, an increase of 1.5 per cent.
The allocations coincide with news that further education colleges have beaten their target, set in 1999, of recruiting 40,000 extra students.
Wendy Alexander, Scotland's enterprise and lifelong-learning minister, praised the "remarkable achievement" of creating 60,000 new places. Intake was boosted by a surge in demand for information technology courses in particular.
Since 1998-99, colleges have seen a 36 per cent real-terms increase in funding. Esther Roberton, chair of the Sfefc, said: "Although this year's increase in funding is not as high as previous years, it is part of a substantial investment in further education over the past few years. We are in a period of consolidation that will allow colleges to take stock."
Sfefc, which took over college funding from the Scottish Office in July 1999, has cut top-slicing and increased the main recurrent grant by 3 per cent for next year. The £310 million grant to the 46 colleges includes £23 million to help widen access, a 7.5 per cent increase on last year. Funding for student support will increase by 2.4 per cent to £59 million, in line with inflation.
But Sfefc is redistributing some of the bursary funds, reducing funds to colleges that have underspent over the past two years. Ten colleges face a cut of up to 10 per cent, while about 20 colleges' funds will rise by at least 5.5 per cent.
The biggest winners are the North Highland College and John Wheatley College, with a 3.9 per cent increase in their total grants, largely because of their success in widening access.
Shetland College is the only institution to suffer a cut - of 2.7 per cent.
Tom Kelly, chief officer of the Association of Scottish Colleges, said colleges were facing a 1 per cent efficiency gain, compounded by increased National Insurance and pensions contributions.
He said. "Consolidation isn't just consolidation of funding but of activity. Some of the things we're doing, such as social inclusion, don't level off in the way funding does. We think there will have to be restriction of places and choices that we would not have wished to see."