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Last round of EU funds

Scotland's further education sector and other training providers may have received their last significant injection of European funding to improve skills, with the announcement of pound;75 million for more than 400 projects, including 150 new ones.

The cash includes pound;175,000 to train young professional footballers who have to turn to an alternative career if they do not make the grade on the pitch, and pound;1 million for the Scottish Adult Learning Partnership to help 40 to 50-year-olds who have been unemployed for more than six months.

But the Scottish Executive is already sending out warnings that, under ongoing EU budget negotiations, it is unlikely lowland Scotland will continue to enjoy the level of support from the Objective 3 European Structural Funds it has had during the life of the current programme, which began in 2000 and will end next year.

The UK Government, which holds the EU presidency at present, believes that structural funds should be targeted at the new member states, principally poorer eastern European countries.

A statement from the Executive said it shared concerns about the overall size of the EU budget, but did not say whether it agreed with the future direction of structural funds. The statement said simply: "As the level of funding is still subject to the EU budget negotiations, it is not possible to assess accurately the level of future funding. However, if any funding is to come to Scotland, it will be a smaller amount than that received under the current programmes."

The structural funds programme, which aims to improve training, employability, skills and competitiveness, will have benefited 2,800 projects to the value of pound;346 million over six years.

Colleges and universities account for the largest share of funds to date, 37 per cent, compared with 36 per cent for voluntary sector projects and 16 per cent to local authority projects. The programme has helped almost 30,000 people into further education or training.

Announcing the latest tranche of funds, Allan Wilson, Deputy Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, said: "As this round of European funding draws to a close, I expect to see this investment enhancing training and skills, and ultimately the economy."

While European funding as a whole represented only 3.4 per cent of FE college income in 2003-04, the actual sums were not inconsiderable and rose from Pounds 14.5 million in 2001-02 to pound;18 million in 2003-04. The average proportion of income ranges from zero in some colleges to 13 per cent in the case of North Highland College in Thurso.

The former Scottish Further Education Funding Council had set up a working group to look at how the reduction in European funding can be managed.

Graeme Hyslop, principal of Langside College in Glasgow, who chairs the West of Scotland Colleges European Partnership, told The TES Scotland earlier this year he feared the FE sector could be "destabilised" if this was not managed properly.

One estimate suggests that support for EU-funded programmes in FE could be slashed by as much as 70 per cent.

A report on FE financial indicators issued by the funding council last year revealed that only 26 of the then 46 colleges had maintained or reduced their dependency on European funds.

Mr Hyslop commented: "Whatever happens, there will be scaled-down support.

There will be less funding to bid for, and the bidding will be more competitive."

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