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Funding: yes Minister

An open letter to Wendy Alexander, Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning.

Dear Wendy Alexander, We seem to be entering another round of turmoil in the FE sector. You only need to look at the disarray in Clydebank (again), Langside, Moray and Stevenson colleges, never mind those just simmering away waiting to erupt, to see what I mean.

It seems strange: colleges are endeavouring, and in the main achieving, all the targets set for them. Every college is doing its bit to improve social inclusion, access to ICT, basic skills. Despite this, many still can't break even financially. What are the reasons?

Despite the introduction of the funding council and the supposed increase in funding, there is still something drastically wrong with the funding methodology. Most of the additional money has not been distributed as grant-in-aid, which is the bread and butter funding of colleges, but ring-fenced to be spent on specifics.

However, this is skewed not to the colleges with the greatest needs but based on the total student head count measured by the weighted SUMS formula or WSUMS. Deliver more WSUMS, receive more ring-fenced money. But it is not always the case that the larger colleges with the greatest number of WSUMS can utilise, or indeed need, these additionalities efficiently.

Since the disastrous decision to incorporate colleges in 1994, when some colleges actually started in deficit, there were year-on-year cuts unil 1998. New Labour made a welcome injection into the sector through the comprehensive spending review but the grant-in-aid of pound;242 million in 1996-97 grew to only pound;284 million in 2000-01, a 17 per cent increase. Yet over the same period student numbers increased by 16.5 per cent, and inflation has been 11.5 per cent.

Something must be done about the funding methodology. Under the present system, not only are academic and support staff jobs at risk. But so also are the life chances of the very people FE is trying so hard to include, those who require the necessary skills to re-enter, and in some cases enter, the labour market. Surely a moratorium on job cuts should be introduced until this shambolic funding system can be reviewed and overhauled.

No heads have rolled since you conducted a management review of the sector; ergo you must be satisfied. And lecturers have changed, adapted, been ever more flexible and increased the number of students being taught. What more can we do? Funding is the key issue.

The Executive has gone it alone with both the Sutherland and McCrone reports. Give us in FE the same opportunity. Give us a proper funding regime and national structure, one that will enable us to get rid of this crazy incorporated structure and get us back to a proper national sector. You have the power to do it, but do you have the will to do it?

Yours sincerely John Cassidy Lecturer, Cardonald College Glasgow

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