Colleges are being allowed to miss their deadline for submitting full audited accounts because they cannot calculate student enrolments in time, writes Lucy Ward.
The Further Education Funding Council is agreeing to push back the date for some colleges after they admitted that their information systems could not process the vast volume of data required quickly enough.
Evidence of problems first came to light last month, when a large number of colleges - said by one sector insider to be as many as three quarters of the total - failed to produce draft enrolment figures by September 5 as required by the funding council.
They reported delays in the checking of the enrolments data by external auditors, resulting in hold-ups in the auditing of the overall final accounts for 1994-5.
The difficulties highlight afresh the complexity of the funding mechanism for the sector, which demands highly detailed information on numbers, course lengths and results.
Latest figures from the FEFC on the results of the first full audit of student numbers in 1993-4 reveal that problems were found with the audit reports of 169 colleges, with 71 causing "particular concern".
Amendments made as a result meant 167 colleges this month had to pay back some of their funding to the FEFC. The funding council will have last year's problems in mind in its decision to allow colleges some leeway this year.
A spokeswoman said the FEFC was negotiating with those unlikely to produce accounts in time to draw up individual revised timetables.
She added: "We also need to be satisfied they have good reason for missing the deadline. There are no prizes for being late."
Ian Griffiths, head of resources at Stockport College, said the college could well be among those missing the November 30 deadline, though it had completed its accounts. He said the delay was due to new FEFC demands for individualised student records, requiring approximately 80 per cent more information than the headcount requested in previous years. Funding council computer software designed to validate the data had struggled to cope with a range of courses in major urban colleges such as Stockport.