Ministers' plans to expand sub-degree education could mean colleges get a significant slice of the #163;776 million extra announced for higher education this week. This is in addition to the extra #163;725 million David Blunkett found for colleges last week.
The announcements signal a shift in the the fortunes of the two sectors. Both have done better under the new Government, gaining substantial increases after years of cuts. However, FE is the big winner. Ministers backed their vision of lifelong learning with an increase, over two years, of 15 per cent in cash to FE compared with 11 per cent for HE.
David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, said the change was designed to open up higher education. "We expect resolute action to broaden access to under-represented social groups. Everyone with the capability for higher education should be able to benefit from it."
This means a big role for FE. The expansion is expected to include 16, 000 extra students on sub-degree courses in 1999-2000 and a further 19,000 the following year. Just over half of these will be part-time. These students are expected to be taught, "mainly in further education colleges."
Tom Wilson, NATFHE universities officer had no doubts that the expansion could be achieved: "#163;776 million over two years means the promised extra 100,000 students will be properly funded."
Ministers expect an extra 36,000 students in HE next year with a further 35,000 in 2000-1. By 2001-2 they hope this will rise to 100,000.
And the settlement raised hopes that HE provision in FE colleges might be put on an equal financial footing with those of universities. John Brennan, director of development at the Association of Colleges, said: "We would hope that the Higher Education Funding Council will recognise the need to move towards common levels of funding across the two sectors - both for existing provision and for further expansion."