The Scottish Further Education Funding Council is preparing to give a financial boost to some of Scotland's remoter colleges - but not all.
The TES Scotland understands that the funding council has opted to take a quick decision to shore up the position of the four colleges serving the Scottish islands - Lews Castle, Orkney, Shetland and Argyll.
Additional cash for the island colleges is likely to be included in the annual grant for the 2005-06 academic year, to be announced at the end of April.
The new deal is expected to give the four colleges an additional Pounds 563,000, ranging from pound;73,000 for Argyll College to pound;247,000 for Lews Castle in Stornoway. Apart from helping to meet the higher costs of operating in scattered areas, the cash should ensure that the funding council achieves its goal of financial security for all colleges by the end of July next year.
The other 10 colleges serving remote and rural areas will have to await a further review. The working group set up to make recommendations to the funding council did not have enough time to carry out the detailed analysis required to come up with a financial package.
Colleges are classified as remote using a complex set of factors, largely based on the number and size of populated areas and whether these are more than 30 minutes' drive from the nearest large settlement. To qualify, a college's main site must be at least 25 kilometres from the nearest alternative.
While the island colleges are likely to be pleased with the outcome, the new formula may not prove a long-term answer to their fundamental problem - small populations which do not generate sufficient student activity, the basis on which colleges are funded.
Under the new arrangements, the island colleges will receive their additional cash in line with their student activity. The current formula also provides a flat-rate "institutional" allowance to reflect the costs of remoteness - Pounds 258,000 in the case of the four island colleges.
The new funding package is restricted to the FE business of the colleges.
It will not take account of their higher education programmes, which constitute as much as 40 per cent of student activity at Lews Castle College.
The next stage is therefore likely to be a fuller review, covering the costs of FE and HE in all colleges serving remote and island areas once the funding councils for the two sectors merge, which is due to take effect from October 1 this year (assuming the Bill to establish the new council proceeds on schedule).