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Funding council strikes 'right balance'

Neil Munro reports on the winners and losers in next year's cash deal

IN a settlement of mixed fortunes, the new academic session will see grant levels for colleges ranging from 14.5 per cent more for Dundee to 15.3 per cent less for Shetland.

Only four colleges (see panel) will receive less money than this year, but three others face "standstill" rises of less than 1 per cent, which may lead to another round of painful cutbacks.

The Scottish Further Education Funding Council, which issued the details today (Friday), said the overall effect was a 12.5 per cent funding boost which would take the total for 2001-02 to pound;414 million.

But individual colleges will see only pound;305 million of this, which represents an average 6.9 per cent rise.

A separate allocation for student bursaries will be increased by 14.4 per cent, from pound;41 million to pound;47 million. The funding council said this would help meet the target of recruiting 40,000 more students over the three years to 2002. The final 13,000 should be in place by next summer.

The figures for individual colleges exclude pound;4 million for fee waivers for part-time students who are mainly from disadvantaged backgrounds, and leave out a pound;6 million subsidy for northern colleges from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council for the institutions which are part of the University of the Highlands and Islands Millennium Institute.

Other elements of the package are an additional pound;6 million for college buildings, pound;2 million for information and communications technology, pound;4 million for quality improvement and pound;1 millio for special needs.

Childcare support for FE students will continue at pound;3 million and there will be a further pound;3 million to expand FE into new areas of Scotland.

David Wann, the funding council's deputy chief executive, said additional resources had been targeted at core funding, investments in specific areas and bursary support.

Colleges will be funded to increase student numbers by 5 per cent in the coming year - bringing in an additional pound;14 million - although they will be allowed a 2 per cent shortfall to accommodate "volatility".

New funding of pound;4 million is geared to the Government's social inclusion agenda, specifically the retention and achievement of students from deprived areas.

Although the funding council will support average expansion of 5 per cent across the colleges, today's settlement is technically an "offer". In the past colleges have challenged the funding council's assumptions, either on the basis that it is anticipating too much growth or too little.

"Within limits, we hope we have been able to balance the council's strategy against the colleges' strategies," Mr Wann said.

There is bound to be disappointment within colleges that much of the increased funding is for additional growth rather than basic commitments. They will resent, too, the continued assumption that there will be "efficiency gains" of 1 per cent. The result will be a 1.5 per cent rise in the "unit of resource" when the universities have been given 4 per cent and substantial investment is going into schools to boost teachers' pay.

Leader, page 20

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