Big funding gap alarms principals

4th May 2001 at 01:00
Neil Munro reports on continuing conflict over how the cake is cut.

COLLEGE principals claimed this week that the way they are funded still does not command the full confidence of the sector.

If the additional sums required to run colleges as a result of major capital investment are included, the allocations range from 32 per cent more for West Lothian College to 15 per cent less for Shetland.

The reaction came following last week's grant announcement by the Scottish Further Education Funding Council where despite a 12.5 per cent increase for the sector, to pound;414 million, there is a huge variation in the fortunes of individual colleges.

Fifteen colleges receive rises of 5 per cent or less , three will receive rises of under 1 per cent and four including Shetland will actually have less. At the fortunate end of the range, 10 colleges have been awarded an additional 10 per cent or more. The average increase on a year-by-year comparison is 6.9 per cent.

Tom Kelly, chief officer of the Association of Scottish Colleges, says much of the extra money is for extra growth - such as pound;12 million more for student support, an additional pound;8 million for recruiting and teaching disadvantaged students and pound;9.7 million for growth in teaching activity and overall enrolments.

But there is only pound;4.4 million extra towards the ongoing costs of teaching, an increase of just 1.5 per cent. Together with the 1 per cent "efficiency gain" requiring colleges to make savings, Mr Kelly said, "this denies colleges the same opportunity to reward staff that universities and schools will get. There will be concern that many colleges aregetting very small increases with which to fund next year's teaching."

He added: "There is more algebra than vision in these allocations. Colleges are not getting the end to financial uncertainty they were promised."

David Wann, the council's deputy chief executive, said colleges were warned in advance what they were likely to receive, in particular that they would be funded to accommodate student growth of between 3 per cent and 5 per cent.

The four colleges which will receive less next session - Langside, Lews Castle, Stevenson and Shetland - anticipated this would happen. The funding council is providing "transitional relief" of pound;2.2 million to help them, but that has been cut by half from what was provided this year.

The three with the smallest rises - Borders, Clydebank and Moray - did so because the funding council is now satisfied that their costs are in line with the sector as a whole.

The lucky "top 10" have been rewarded for having a better record of growth and also their success in attracting more students from disadvantaged areas, Mr Wann said.

This was confirmed by Iain Ovens, principal of Dundee College, which had one of the largest increases. Dundee recruits 32 per cent of its students from the 20 poorest postcode areas, and has met its "ambitious target" for overall student growth of 6 per cent.

Mr Ovens acknowledges that the methodology represents a complex calculation. He added, however: "It is none the less much easier for colleges to know what their targets are, compared to the funding regime in the past which was based retrospectively on previous student numbers."

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