THE INTRODUCTION of a new funding system for teaching in English higher education has been set back a year.
Funding council chiefs say most institutions would prefer to delay wide-ranging changes until after Sir Ron Dearing's committee of inquiry into higher education has reported next summer.
They are also bracing themselves for a "heated debate" over plans to even out big funding imbalances for similar provision within the sector.
The funding system is now scheduled to be introduced from September 1998. Four months of consultation on the plans found university and college heads nervous about the prospect of any changes recommended by Sir Ron's committee following on the heels of a major review of funding for teaching.
Bahram Bekhradnia, the Higher Education Funding Council for England's director of policy, explained: "We were strongly urged by most institutions to wait until Dearing reports in case he came up with any surprises which would cause us to change the methodology once again."
The funding council also wants to use the extra time to consult further on some aspects of its proposals about which institutions raised concerns. These included proposals to switch the criterion for allocating student numbers from one based on the "cheapness" of courses to another that takes into account factors such as student demand, quality and regional needs.
While most institutions supported the notion of bidding for extra numbers on the basis of particular factors, there was less agreement over which factors were the most important.
Some were also concerned about the make-up of proposed peer review panels to oversee the bids.
But the biggest area of potential conflict is the plan to bring the average funding per student for each institution to within 5 per cent of new standard levels to be set by the funding council. Mr Bekhradnia said the funding council would be prepared to negotiate with individual institutions over the period for making such funding changes.
But he warned: "There is likely to be quite a heated debate between us and the institutions over the extent to which the changes in units of funding should be made by giving and taking away money, and giving and taking away student numbers."
Some university heads have warned that institutions at the top end of the funding range will suffer if the funding council attempts to make adjustments through efficiency gains before the new system is brought into play.
Peter Knight, vice chancellor of the University of Central England, warns on page 5 which institutions could be in trouble.
Mr Bekhradnia commented: "We need to nurse institutions through any difficulties they might have."