Colleges' prospects are not so bleak

2nd April 2010 at 01:00
Colleges face many risks in the next few years, but one of the biggest is that we talk ourselves into decline.

The KPMG report ("Viability in doubt for 100 `vulnerable' colleges", cover story, March 19) is a classic example of this. Apparently, the consultants believe that "colleges face funding cuts of 20 per cent in the next few years" and one of the responses will be college closures and mergers. This is a possible scenario, but it is a particularly bleak one.

There are 352 colleges in England and they are enrolling more young people than ever. The funding cuts that colleges face on their adult budgets are partly balanced in 2010 by growth in 16-18 funding.

Colleges are right to plan for harder times ahead, but they are also quick to seize opportunities. Apprenticeships, part-time HE, courses for 14- year-olds and privately funded adult education are all possible areas of future income growth in addition to the core areas of 16-18 education.

None of this is certain and none of it will be easy, but the future is what we make of it. It is very likely that college income will decline in the next few years, but any decline comes after 15 years of growth.

We may see fewer colleges or we may see smaller colleges. Alternatively, we may see colleges expand to take on work from schools, universities and private training providers that decide to concentrate elsewhere.

KPMG may believe colleges have stagnated in the past seven years on the back of rising levels of funding. We see money that has been used to improve quality, change courses and improve buildings (sadly only half of them).

No-one in the Association of Colleges is in denial about the challenges colleges face, but we strive to reflect faithfully the views of its strong and resourceful leadership.

Julian Gravatt, Assistant chief executive, Association of Colleges.

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