Funding council in foreign trips row

The Further Education Funding Council has raised the hackles of college principals by telling them to clamp down on foreign travel while it spends thousands of pounds sending its inspectors on fact-finding trips to the Far East.

A funding council report on post-school education and training in Singapore published last month at a cost of #163;13,500 comes just six weeks after the FEFC warned college principals that they should only sanction "essential" foreign travel that represented "value for money".

The Singapore report was based on a visit by four inspectors to the country nearly two years ago. The bill for their seven-day trip included #163;931 each for bed and breakfast at a top hotel, an Pounds 84-a-day subsistence allowance and Pounds 800 for airline tickets.

In July, FEFC director of finance David Russell wrote to college bosses telling them that, before undertaking foreign travel, they should consider whether "the objectives of the journey (could) be achieved by other means such as video conferencing".

FEFC officers say the information gleaned from the Singapore trip could only be obtained through "first-hand experience". Similar trips, to South Korea and Malaysia in March this year, cost the FEFC another #163;24,000.

One college principal, who did not want to be named, said: "It's a bit rich of the funding council to be lecturing us when they are prepared to waste money like this."

The 31-page report says the aim of the trip was "to explore characteristics of policy and practice which might inform thinking in FE". But it acknowledges that policy and practice of the two countries are in fact "very different".

But the FEFC's chief inspector Jim Donaldson defended the trips, saying that they came under the quality assessment committee's terms of reference to "keep abreast of international developments".

"I think we have a great deal to learn from other countries' systems," he said.

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