Executive cash cut may harm 'educational village'

Concerns have been expressed about the ability of the further education sector to sustain the ambitious programme to renew and rebuild its estate, if the Scottish Executive does not continue with current levels of funding.

Leading members of the Scottish Funding Council expressed their worries on the council's property and capital investment committee.

The committee "expressed concern that the ability to fund projects in the pipeline (is) dependent upon capital funds being available beyond the end of this spending review period.

"The committee noted that public expectations had already been raised regarding a number of potential projects such as the Glasgow city centre colleges."

The funding council has projects worth pound;453 million in the pipeline, of which pound;130m in value have been approved. The Executive's current spending review period runs until 2008.

Ministers substantially raised their grant to the funding council to enable it to increase support for colleges' capital investment from pound;37.9m last year to pound;65.9m in the current academic year.

One of the major developments with most to lose if funding is curtailed is the pound;100m plan for a complete overhaul of FE facilities in Glasgow city centre.

In his most recent report to the funding council, Roger McClure, its chief executive, acknowledged that "the project has been controversial from the outset because of strongly-held differences of view among the colleges as to how to proceed".

The four colleges involved are Glasgow Metropolitan, the Central College of Commerce, Glasgow College of Nautical Studies and Stow. The funding council has made little secret of its desire to forge ahead with an "educational village" housing all of FE in the Cathedral Street area, next to Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian universities.

But Stow in particular has put up fierce resistance, preferring to plough its own furrow with a pound;25m move to new premises at Central Quay on the Clyde. Central College has also proved a reluctant partner, having pulled out of the talks with Glasgow College of Building and Printing and Glasgow College of Food Technology which led to the creation of Glasgow Metropolitan College.

So complex has the issue become that the funding council and the colleges have hired consultants to prepare a full business case, and their work is being overseen by a steering group with an independent chair, Bill Miller, Glasgow's former MEP.

The funding council is scheduled to take a final decision in February. It will require "the greatest diligence and rigour from the council in view of the scale and complexity of the project and the differences of view about it," Mr McClure has said.

He stressed the importance of establishing a momentum to advance the development. But Stow College believes that, if a move to Cathedral Street is the final decision, the project is unlikely to be completed before 2010-11.

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