Student number targets raised

June 30, 2000

Further education funding chiefs are raising the growth targets that colleges must achieve if they are to avoid having money clawed back from their budgets.

The move comes as a growing number of college heads complain that access to funding council advice on complicated funding rules is getting harder to come by.

A Further Education Funding Council circular says the threshold at which funding is recovered from a college is to be raised from 75 per cent of target student numbers being achieved last year to 85 per cent this year and 90 per cent by 2000-01.

The higher thresholds mean that under the FEFC's system, a college that achieved 80 per cent of target numbers and lost nothing last year would lose 5 per cent of growth funding under the same circumstances this year and 10 per cent next year.

This is "in line with ministers' views that institutions should be delivering the growth in student numbers as set out in their funding agreements", the circular says.

The FEFC intends to claw back funds for underachievement against targets for recruitment of 16 to 18-year-olds and total student numbers. Targets for growth in adult student numbers will not be subject to a clawback, but will be taken into account by the new Learning and Skills Council in 2001-02.

The funding council has also warned that a 2 per cent margin of tolerance for under or overachievement, which can be carried forward from one year to the next, should not be interpreted as free credit.

The circular says: "It was not the intention to allow institutions that underachieved against their funding agreement a 2 per cent credit that would never be subject to recovery; the policy has, however, been interpreted in this way by a number of institutions."

John Brennan, Association of Colleges director of further education development, said: "Most college heads will say that as long as they know the rules, they can hit the targets. But the more complicated you make the rules, the harder the targets become."

Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat further education spokesman, said an increasing number of colleges was complaining that it was becoming harder to get advice on such issues because the FEFC was "in a state of limbo", with the approach of the LSC regime.

He is to table questions in the Commons on how many staff have left the FEFC and not been replaced.

"The new regime will inherit a state of chaos if this continues," he said.

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