The Scottish Office has announced a "strategic initiatives fund" for FE colleges. But the Pounds 1.3 million, which has to be spent before the end of next March, is spread across 46 colleges. The money is to be used to encourage "collaborative ventures" between colleges and is part of the Government's determination to minimise what Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, has criticised as "over-vigorous competition".
The outcome of a review of the funding methods used to allocate grants to colleges is expected soon, and Mr Wilson has said he expects it to replace the "intense pressure for growth" generated by the current formula with "a sense of community of interests and collaboration in a common enterprise".
Mr Wilson, giving details of the initiative, said closer collaboration must strike the right balance and not jeopardise the benefits of "healthy and constructive competition".
The Scottish Office says colleges will be free to spend the money on any project that demonstrates closer collaboration or strategic co-operation with other colleges.
Tom Kelly, chief officer of the Association of Scottish Colleges, welcomed what he described as, "at least a first step towards a strategic framework for FE. We are glad to see it is not a strait-jacket with a narrow remit and, with the money distributed broadly in relation to college size, it is not encouraging people to bid with no certainty that they will receive any of the cash."
Colleges have opposed the way challenge funding works because considerable preparatory work is no guarantee bids will succeed.