The organisation created to set training standards for further education has had a windfall in excess of pound;30,000 as colleges have rushed to sign up for "corporate membership".
Geoff Terry, chief executive of the Further Education National Training Organisation (Fento), believes the increase in the number of applications to join - at pound;300 a college - will give it more power when negotiating with ministers.
The assumption in the first year of Fento's life was that all colleges would automatically be members. But letters were sent out in July to all colleges suggesting that a nominal fee of pound;300 should be charged. Within six weeks, more than 100 colleges (approximately 20 per cent) had signed up, while the rise in numbers is continuing steadily.
The early surge of interest coincided with rumours of government plans to water down its commitment to a rapid professionalisation of the lecturer workforce, according to many principals and governors.
The rumours came to a head last month when FE Focus, in The TES, reportedplans to postpone new statutory requirements on lecturers to complete teacher training programmes. Now, instead of regulations to ensure that staff are trained, ministers are understood to prefer a phased programme over five years.
The onus will be on the local learning and skills councils to guarantee the minimum of teaching standards when awarding education and training contracts.
"This is a sleight of hand," said one principal. "Ministers can appear to be taking a tough line on training without footing the bill."
But Geoff Terry believes the number of colleges signing up for Fento indicates an engagement with the issue of standards. "There is a clear commitment to the NTO agenda, which is identifying skills needs and looking at how best to tackle them," he said.
Specialist services planned for Fento members will include access to materials on standards as well as a members-only website. An additional choice of toolkits for training would also be made available for members colleges, Geoff Terry said.