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Colleges fear trial by numbers

The ability of some further education colleges to survive the tough new financial controls announced by the Scottish Office last week will be put to the test in the coming year as funding levels are for the first time based solely on student numbers.

The Pounds 231 million settlement for 1996-97, representing a 0.67 per cent rise, is based on a 6 per cent growth in student activity and 4 per cent "efficiency gains" in the 1994-95 academic year. Colleges doubt, however, that recruitment can continue to grow at previous rates.

Craig Brown, principal of Dundee College, which faces the heaviest cut of Pounds 474,900, commented this week: "In a place like Dundee where there are two universities, there is not much room for expanding student numbers at the advanced levels, even without the current capping of full-time higher education courses in the colleges.

"We took the conscious decision to concentrate on non-advanced work. But that, too, is constrained by the heavy demands made on bursary expenditure by students whom we are trying to attract into FE but who may be from low-income backgrounds or are single parents and so on."

The Association of Scottish Colleges says its priority will be to convince the Government that "it will not be possible to continue to increase student participation, and for colleges to play an effective role in the achievement of the Government's training targets, without the necessary resources".

Mr Brown played down fears over redundancies, saying his college had anticipated the cuts. Dundee has shed 30 staff in the past 18 months by voluntary means, and hopes to avoid compulsory job losses. Ratios of staff to students, however will also rise.

The Scottish Office has attempted to help by retaining a safety net under which no college has lost more than 5 per cent of grant. Dundee would have lost another Pounds 250,000 without this protection. But Mr Brown warned that some courses, such as construction, could become uneconomic.

He said: "I believe there is a social responsibility on FE to provide courses in construction but, if the numbers coming from the industry are less than the optimum figure on which the Scottish Office grant is based, I have got to question seriously whether we can afford to discharge that responsibility. "

The new grants are based on what is know as a "student unit of measurement". James Watt College in Greenock, which has been growing rapidly, has therefore received the largest increase. Previous allocations retained a historic element of 60 per cent of each college's grant which was tied to the amounts they received while under local authority control.

The move to formula funding has coincided with the Scottish Office's attempt to standardise unit costs. This has made the safety net even more crucial. Bell College, for example, would have lost more than 30 per cent of its grant due to the high cost of its mostly advanced courses. It joins Dundee as one of 12 colleges where funding has been cut by the maximum 5 per cent.

Mr Brown said: "It will take a considerable amount of effort to achieve the savings. But I am not tearing my hair out and I don't anticipate any cataclysmic consequences. Apart from anything else, I have got staff morale to consider."

The second heaviest cut of Pounds 371,900 is to be borne by Fife College. Douglas Law, Fife's depute principal, pledged that staff severance would proceed on a voluntary basis for as long as possible. Mr Law called for colleges to be guaranteed core funding over a three-year period with the remainder based on student activity. He also wants the allocations to be based on current information: the 1996-97 grants are based on 1994-95 student figures.

The new funding regime also combines for the first time allocations for capital and day-to-day running costs, which some colleges suspect conceals further cuts. The Secretary of State is urging organisations to look to the private sector for additional spending on capital projects, using the Government's private finance initiative.

One senior FE figure commented: "The PFI is all very well if you are looking for a new building, but if you need to rewire, replumb or reclad, who is going to be interested?" WINNERS AND LOSERS IN THE GRANT WAR

1996-97 1995-96

Aberdeen College Pounds 13,888,000 Pounds 13,348,100 Angus College Pounds 3,422,300 Pounds 3,176,700 Anniesland College Pounds 4,377,500 Pounds 4, 060,754 Ayr College Pounds 4,507,300 Pounds 4,591,600 Banff Buchan College Pounds 3,514,800 Pounds 3,332,900 The Barony College Pounds 1,230,100 Pounds 1, 252,600 Bell College of Technology Pounds 5,039,300 Pounds 5,304,500 Borders College Pounds 3,910,700 Pounds 3,870,000 Cambuslang College Pounds 4,119,900 Pounds 4,112,700

Cardonald College Pounds 6,449,600 Pounds 6,124,000 Central College of Commerce Pounds 4,483,800 Pounds 4,392,200 Clackmannan College Pounds 2, 385,400 Pounds 2,399,500 Clydebank College Pounds 6,510,300 Pounds 6,801,600 Coatbridge College Pounds 3,580,100 Pounds 3,768,500 Cumbernauld College Pounds 2, 820,900 Pounds 2,683,600 Dumfries Galloway College Pounds 4,792,600 Pounds 4, 928,500 Dundee College Pounds 9,976,500 Pounds 10,501,600

Elmwood College Pounds 3,199,400 Pounds 3,106,800 Falkirk College of Technology Pounds 7,824,800 Pounds 7,885,400 Fife College Pounds 7,065, 500 Pounds 7,437,400 Glasgow College of Building Printing Pounds 5,253,400 Pounds 5,495,000 Glasgow College of Food Technology Pounds 3,205,600 Pounds 3, 374,300 Glasgow College of Nautical Studies Pounds 3,630,100 Pounds 3,821,200 Glenrothes College Pounds 4,881,500 Pounds 5,018,200 Inverness College Pounds 5,972,600 Pounds 6,287,000 James Watt College Pounds 8,140,400 Pounds 7, 372,900 Jewel and Esk Valley College Pounds 7,026,200 Pounds 7,396,000 John Wheatley College Pounds 3,501,000 Pounds 3,241,000 Kilmarnock College Pounds 5,052, 600 Pounds 4,806,400

Langside College Pounds 6,222,400 Pounds 5,895,848 Lauder College Pounds 5,503,300 Pounds 5,126,100 Lews Castle College Pounds 1,960,300 Pounds 2,063,500 Moray College Pounds 4,835,700 Pounds 4,826,700 Motherwell College Pounds 7,441,300 Pounds 6,944,100 North Glasgow College Pounds 5,734,000 Pounds 5,695,900 Oatridge Agricultural College Pounds 1,794,500 Pounds 1,888,900 Perth College Pounds 5,763,500 Pounds 5,573,600

Reid Kerr College Pounds 8,168,100 Pounds 7,685,100 Stevenson College Pounds 9,696,000 Pounds 9,827,900 Stow College Pounds 4,377,700 Pounds 4,182,800 Telford College Pounds 12,789,600 Pounds 12,543,600 Thurso College Pounds 2,527,300 Pounds 2,660,300 West Lothian College Pounds 4,584,200 Pounds 4,825,500 Total Pounds 231,160,100 Pounds 229,630,802

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