FURTHER education colleges have gained the lion's share of the post-16 spending announced by Chancellor Gordon Brown this week.
For once they have not been trounced by the universities. Next year there will be an additional Pounds 535 million for further and higher education, as a result of the Government's comprehensive spending review.
And Pounds 255m of this - an 8.2 per cent cash increase - will go to FE and sixth-form colleges. Universities will get Pounds 280m (5.7 per cent).
Education Secretary David Blunkett said the Government had taken "tough but fair decisions on funding for further and higher education". He said there had been years of neglect over the past seven Conservative budgets.
He added: "We will carry through our promise to spend the money raised by our new student support arrangements on improving access to, and investment in, further and higher education." The additional cash would be used to increase expansion and raise and retain high quality, he added.
He estimated that up to 80,000 of the additional 500,000 students expected by 2002 would be in higher education. The rest would be in further education.
Margaret Hodge - whose education and employment select committee successfully lobbied for an education maintenance allowance to help more 16 to 18-year-olds stay on in post-16 education and training - hailed the review as "a victory for David Blunkett".
She added: "The extra Pounds 19 billion is excellent news for all those involved in education. The education maintenance allowance for 16 to 19-year-olds will help improve Britain's dismal participation rate. And at last FE and HE will be treated equally with both expected to make efficiency savings of only 1 per cent next year."
Sue Dutton, acting chief executive of the Association of Colleges, welcomed the Chancellor's announcement. She said that even though the details of the deal were yet to emerge it was clear that "there will be real extra money for further education". She added: "We expect that most of the 500,000 extra students, who will be fully funded, will come to us. We are delighted that, as we have argued, efficiency gains for the sector will be held to 1 per cent, at least for 1998-99. It appears there will be more capital funds, which will, for example, help some colleges to gear up their IT provision.
"As we have recommended, student support is addressed with the education maintenance pilots for 16 to 19-year-olds - and we think there's more to come, perhaps, for adults. All in all, at this stage it looks a really good settlement for the sector which will lift morale and give us support to achieve what Government wants us to deliver."
Chris Hughes, chief executive designate of the Further Education Development Agency, also gave a warm welcome to the review. "The education maintenance allowance is excellent news. The extra money will encourage young people to continue their education and training past the age of 16.
"Once in college the money will help ensure they stay on and have the opportunity to achieve the best results. Many of the recommendations reflect the positive proposals put forward by the select committee. This shows that the spending review is based on well-researched evidence.
"Above all, the comprehensive spending review is good news for learners. Ensuring that everyone has equal access to post-16 education and training is the only way to ensure the UK's competitiveness and the workforce's employability. The spending review certainly seems to support that."