Scottish Government plans to change the way further education colleges are funded should be deferred until new regional structures have been agreed, college principals have told TESS.
A week after the Government published its consultation on the regionalisation of the college sector and its funding, principals have warned that changing the funding structure to a regional needs-based model while colleges form regional partnerships would put the success of the reform plans at risk.
"The three-year plan to move from where we are to where the Scottish Government wants us to be, I don't think is unreasonable. What is not reasonable is that they put it into the wrong sequence. The sequence should be: shape of the sector; funding; governance," said one principal.
Making structural changes in the time-frame proposed - a year - was not feasible, especially as colleges also had to absorb a significant funding cut, said another.
The consultation paper made allowances for the specific needs of rural colleges, but included no mention of allowances for urban colleges, which had to deal with a variety of issues linked to poverty, he added.
Colleges providing courses for a large number of students with learning disabilities and other support needs could also be disadvantaged, he said.
The paper proposes abolishing a separate weighting for specific courses taken by students with learning disabilities and replacing it with a "price per student place at a rate reflecting the fact that some students need additional support".
But principals fear this funding mechanism will mean the extra payment is averaged out across all the colleges in a regional grouping, leaving individual colleges with no financial incentive to include this group of students.
Principals are also concerned that moving from a funding structure based on student units of measurement (SUMs), to one based on full-time equivalent student places, could prove a Trojan horse for making hidden efficiencies and cutting funding.