On this count, it is a raw deal for the sector

3rd July 2009 at 01:00

Numbers are fascinating. Take 13, for example, a number so historically and culturally stigmatised that most people tend to avoid it. But not the Learning and Skills Council, which has just approved the capital funding projects of 13 colleges (page 3).

Had they approved a dozen or even 14, might it have sounded better? Probably not. The number of projects funded was always likely to be disappointingly small given the amount of demand (180 bids) compared with the money (Pounds 500 million) available.

However, many in further education are shocked by just how few projects will now go forward after scores of providers were encouraged to be ambitious on behalf of their learners, communities and staff.

Perhaps only 13 bids met fully all the LSC criteria, allowing for an obvious cut-off point. If more projects fully satisfied the criteria, then it would be interesting to learn how the funding body came to its decision.

Of course, whether we end up with 13 colleges receiving final approval remains to be seen. If the baker's dozen fail to trim the costs of their bids, then it may be fewer. There is even a chance that if they make big cuts, there may be enough to fund another one or two institutions' projects this year.

Another figure to note is 167, which is the number of bitterly disappointed providers who, as things stand, will get nothing from the LSC for building projects this year. For their staff and students, it's back to the same old classrooms or, if they have already demolished them, to the Portakabins.

A further notable number is Pounds 1.1 billion, which is what providers thought they would receive for Train to Gain programmes next year. Because of the higher-than-expected demand this year, funding has been brought forward, which colleges fear leaves less for next year than they had for this.

And one number that providers would very much like to know is the amount of Train to Gain money pocketed by providers who have misinterpreted, accidentally or otherwise, the funding rules (page 1).

You can learn a lot from numbers and, on this count, the FE sector is getting a raw deal. Demand has been allowed to soar past available budgets for capital and Train to Gain. Now there is a whiff of trouble around Train to Gain, reminiscent of the problems that beset individual learning accounts.

FE Focus will never tire of campaigning for a better deal for the sector. Let's hope the Government and the LSC might get around to delivering it.

Alan Thomson, FE Focus Editor


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