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Access is first target for merged funding council

Scotland's 43 further education colleges and 20 higher education institutions were handed over to new paymasters on Monday when the separate funding councils in the two sectors were abolished to make way for the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council - also to be known as the Scottish Funding Council.

The new body, which will command pound;1.5 billion of expenditure, has been set an early challenge - kick-starting a campaign to attract more people from disadvantaged backgrounds into colleges and universities (TESS, last week). The last meeting of the FE funding council on September 22 set another: "to support the essential diversity between and within the sectors".

While a single tertiary council for Scotland has been long a dream for many, some FE principals feel there is a danger that the distinctive voice of the colleges may become blurred.

The meeting also urged the council's successor to consider how to meet the growing demand for growth in FE. This has been fuelled by a combination of education maintenance allowances and school-college partnerships, as well as new buildings which create a more attractive learning environment (James Watt campus at Kilwinning, West Lothian and Adam Smith colleges all report this impact).

Esther Roberton, chair of the FE funding council, paid a farewell tribute to the "immense" distance travelled in six years. "Participation by those from the 20 per cent most deprived postcodes is up an impressive 28 per cent," Ms Roberton said, "while colleges have made a major contribution to Scotland's outstanding participation levels in higher education."

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