3Rural funding gap hits broke Borders

Neil Munro

BORDERS COLLEGE has given further notice of what it claims are the dire consequences of the way FE colleges are funded, particularly those in rural areas.

It says it can no longer afford the "generous" guarantee which lecturers have enjoyed since the college was run by local authorities that those aged over 50 who are made compulsorily redundant are entitled to maximum enhancement towards their pension. Almost four in 10 of the college's lecturers are aged over 50.

Bob Murray, the principal, said: "We have been trying to negotiate this change since March 2000. The unions have been resistant and I don't blame them. But I am also the chief accounting officer for the college and I cannot contemplate anything that would put the college at serious financial risk."

Dr Murray says that continuing with the present redundancy arrangement "would bust us". At present a 50-year-old lecturer with 27 years' service would cost the college pound;140,000 ifthey were made compulsorily redundant.

Borders saw its main grant from the FE funding council increased by just 0.7 per cent this year to pound;4.7 million, effectively a real terms decrease. The average rise for Scottish colleges is 6.9 per cent.

As a result it faces a pound;300,000 deficit unless it makes "substantial savings". Among these are downgrading its centre at Duns, amalgamating the engineering and motor vehicle departments, and rationalising its outreach resources.

Dr Murray made it clear that there were no plans for any compulsory redundancies between now and June next year. But he warned: "So long as FE funding is based on growth in student numbers, we are never going to get out of this bind."

The college faced a double whammy in that the formula rewards increasing numbers of full-time students and these have remained steady for the past three years in the Borders, while at the same time there is an annual 5 per cent decrease in the number of school-leavers. Yet Borders also takes the largest number of student recruits from leavers of any other - 26 per cent against a Scottish average of 18 per cent.

Dr Murray said: "It depends what kind of FE service you want. We can offer an FE service but it is not going to be one which the Borders needs or deserves."

In a statement issued to The TES Scotland, the funding council pointed out that colleges like Borders receive "remoteness" funding which recognises extra rural costs. This increased the college's grant by about 6 per cent in 2001-02.

"Colleges get funded to deliver an agreed volume of activity, therefore it is not accurate to say that our funding formula is premised on growth," a spokesperson said. "Borders College is having difficulty meeting the agreed volume of activity that we are funding."

The statement added that the council was currently reviewing how part-time and full-time student activity is measured for funding purposes.

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Neil Munro

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