FE purse strings

Tom Kelly is absolutely correct in emphasising that the Pounds 45 million allocated for further education bursaries will be insufficient (TESS, January 17) to meet the envisaged growth in student numbers in Scottish further education colleges.

It does not follow, however, that the decision by the Secretary of State in 1995 to take over responsibility for FE bursaries by removing Pounds 45 million expenditure from local authority control was wrong. Cash-strapped Scottish education authorities are now having to make tough decisions on their expenditure allocations. It is clear that many would have decided to reduce (or even eliminate) their expenditure on discretionary further education awards. The overall allocation for 1997-98 would have been well below the Pounds 45 million.

Joyce Johnston, principal of Fife College, is not quite correct in stating that bursaries under local authorities were not cash limited. Some authorities had reached the stage of not being able to support all eligible applicants, particularly those wishing to start in January.

It has to be accepted that, for the future, no matter which political party is in control, resources from the public purse will be limited. As Rae Angus, principal of Aberdeen College states, better housekeeping and innovative ways of allocating the bursary budget will ensure that the maximum number of students benefit.

Many colleges are also securing European funding, and some are working in partnership with their local enterprise companies to increase student access to further education. However, such partnerships are patchy across Scotland. Agreement to earmark another 10 per cent of the substantial Pounds 200 million Scottish Enterprise training budget for FE bursaries would go a long way to overcoming the bursary shortfall.

The resultant increase in student numbers would provide a much needed impetus to the achievement of the national training targets.

JOHN SELLARS Dalmahoy Crescent Balerno, Edinburgh

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