Standstill budget irks sector

Colleges face funding higher pay and pensions with very little new money for the next two years, reports Neil Munro.

Further education colleges will have to wait for two to three years before the sector finds any significantly increased funding from the Scottish Executive.

The spending review decision, announced last week by Andy Kerr, the Finance Minister, confirms the virtual standstill budget for FE which the colleges have been expecting over the next couple of years, much to their chagrin as they wrestle with new commitments to pay increased national insurance contributions, salary rises and pensions.

Spending allocated to the Scottish Further Education Funding Council will rise from pound;420 million in the current year to pound;429m, pound;466m and pound;504m in each of the three years of the review, which fixes public spending in Scotland up to 2005-06.

Tom Kelly, chief officer of the Association of Scottish Colleges, said the problem for the colleges now is how severe the two-year standstill in expenditure is going to be.

Iain Gray, the Lifelong Learning Minister, had told the ASC conference in June that he would be fighting FE's corner during the Executive's discussions over the spending review.

Taking the three years of the review, the Minister appears to have done well since the colleges will receive a 20 per cent increase compared with other areas of his portfolio - 15 per cent extra for higher education, 8 per cent more for student awards and just under 5 per cent for the enterprise network.

But the colleges will not see the biggest increases until the last two years, from 2.1 per cent additional money to 8.6 per cent to 8.2 per cent. The higher education institutions, by contrast, will have relatively more to spend at the beginning - 3.7 per cent followed by 6 per cent and 4.4 per cent.

The Executive expects to see colleges use the extra cash on improving their facilities and continuing to attract students from disadvantaged areas but flexibility is promised.

Mr Gray has also been able to secure an additional pound;25m to fund an expansion in the modern apprenticeship scheme to increase the numbers from 22,500 to more than 25,000 by 2006. The pound;34m extension of the educational maintenance allowances scheme, which encourages more youngsters to stay on at school or college, also comes out of his budget.

The plans confirm that individual learning accounts, which were closed across the UK last year after fraudulent claims were made, are to reappear in a new scheme, costing pound;6.5m by 2006.

The Executive hopes that the effect of the spending review over the next four years will be a reduction (unspecified) in the proportion of 16 to19-year-olds not in education, training or employment, and a 5 per cent increase in the number of 16 to19-year-olds from low-income families staying on at school or college.

The thrust of the Executive's policies, according to Ministers, is to develop a "can do, will do" attitude. They therefore want to see education for work and enterprise at the heart of the Scottish curriculum from pre-school through to age 18 (page six).

september 20 2002 TES *39 SCOTLAND FEFOCUS Carol Gow Window of opportunity: The educational maintenance allowances scheme, encourages more youngsters to stay on at school or college by Neil Munro Mike benson

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