THE chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council has set out the future direction of further education funding, but with no promise of extra cash for some of the key areas concerning the sector.
John Harwood told delegates at a post-16 education conference that the gap in funding between colleges and school sixth forms needs to be addressed.
He refused to be drawn on the pound;300 million which the Association of Colleges says is needed to give FE students the same resources as their school counterparts, but made clear the funding gap will be tackled as part of the LSC's submissions under the comprehensive spending review.
The conference, held in Cambridge this week, was organised by the AOC and the Sixth Form Colleges' Employers' Forum.
"There is an issue about funding, but we also need to ask ourselves what we can do to make the system more efficient," he said. "We want to listen to the AOC and the forum and ask them how they feel this should be tackled."
He believes FE colleges can learn from the standards achieved in sixth-form colleges, although the AOC argues that such specialist institutions have an advantage over colleges which provide a broader curriculum for a wider age group of students.
The forum says it wants to take a positive attitude to the consultation and help Mr Harwood make the case for more funding, although the AOC says the sector will have to put up a sophisticated case if it is going to get more money from the Treasury.
John Brennan, the AOC's FE development director, said: "The argument has to be sophisticated. If we pointout the value which we are offering, ministers may cynically ask why they should pay more money for something that they are already getting."
The Government's commitment to future funding suggests the gap will get wider. School sixth forms have been pledged 6.5 per cent next year and will get at least 3 per cent the following year. Colleges will get 1.6 per cent next year and 1.4 per cent the year after that, which the AOC says is a real-term cut against expected inflation of around 2.5 per cent.
Despite the bleak outlook, the AOC says it will stick with the lobbying process to secure more funding, although one principal, John Tredwell, of Worcester College, challenged it to organise a period of non co-operation with government.
But Mr Brennan said: "We will continue to put our case to MPs and ministers. Non co-operation would not achieve anything."
Mr Harwood announced that principals grappling with their three-year strategic plans, due to be submitted to the LSC by July 30, have now been given until the end of September.
Another bureaucratic headache for principals, the funding methodology inherited by the LSC from the Further Education Funding Council, could be harder to sort out, he said.
"It will take a period of several years to change the funding methodology," he said. "This is a complex process involving a lot of young people and it is not something we are going to do in a rushed way."
This gradual approach is supported by David Gibson, chief executive of the AOC. "We don't want colleges to deal with a sudden change in the funding formula and we are happy to see it take place over a period of years," he said.