Taking a taper to those BOPUs

Principals are not impressed with the move to simplify funding, reports Ngaio Crequer

AN ATTEMPT to simplify the way colleges are funded has led to what one registrar described as "a number cruncher's paradise".

"It would certainly not achieve the aim of making it understandable to outsiders," said Julian Gravatt, registrar of Lewisham College, south London.

College principals were less polite about the efforts of the Further Education Funding Council's stage two working group charged with reviewing funding.

"I think the council takes the view that what we can't understand we can't complain about." Instead of making things easier, the FEFC had simply introduced different complexities, one principal said.

One gem in the report cited as worthy of a Plain English Society Gobbledegook award is: "The overall approach to the simplified methodology is to calculate BOPUs (basic on-programme units) for a student for each period of study, based on the qualifications they study, and then calculate all other units from these BOPUs using information such as the student's eligibility for tuition fee remission. The exception is additional support units, which would continue to be calculated directly from the costs incurred."

Another is the proposal for a funding "taper" to be introduced. The group's report says: "With a taper threshold of 32 and a discount factor of 0.5 the student would have 2 BOPUs above the threshold (34-32), giving a discounted number above the threshold of 1. The total funded BOPU's would be 33 (32 + 1). The overall discount to be applied to the on-programme units would be 3334, giving 43 on-programme units (44 x 3334 rounded) to be funded."

The review was started in 1996 but the first stage of the work proved inaccessible to most people.

The review group claims that new changes will allow "a funding programme which displays funding unit calculations in a simple, readily understandable way".

The report gives many recommendations of measures to widen participation and methods, such as the monitoring of postcodes to combat under-achievement. It suggests stalling on a new childcare fund until all access monies have been considered and no further direct links between funding and quality, as measured purely by inspection grades.

Further work should be done on funding a curriculum entitlement for full-time 16 to 18-year-old students, says the group.

It also says that the council should set up a standing group which would act as a sounding board on funding matters. But such recommendations are seen as buried in a mire of obscurity.

Julian Gravatt said: "Six different official reports in the past two years have suggested the funding method should be simplified but its complexity is partly a result of the attempt to be responsive.

"The review group comprises senior FEFC and college managers, who have a shared interest in preserving existing budgets and existing systems.

"That is why the recommendations support the status quo with modifications to meet new demands."

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