What cash will be left over for colleges once universities have had their rich pickings following the Government's spending review? Prospects are not promising. Chancellor Gordon Brown in his Budget this week insisted that any public-sector funding increases must be pegged at 2.5 per cent.
That does not square with Education Secretary Charles Clarke's pledge in the higher education debate to increase cash for university teaching by 30 per cent. Even if other parts of the HE budget are raided to support this growth, it is still a disproportionate and unfair drain on the total growth for education - giving universities well beyond 2.5 per cent extra next year.
In its bid to the spending review, Universities UK demanded an extra pound;10 billion over three years. As the total increase for education is only pound;7bn, it will get nothing like it. Nor will FE get anything like the pound;1.9bn called for by the Association of Colleges.
In advance of the Budget, the Government confirmed that Health would do best. Hence, ministers warned, there would be a lot less available for other services than anyone had hoped. UUK fought a brilliant campaign, convincing the public that universities really are hard up. As a result, the Government has over-committed cash to HE at the expense of schools and colleges, which represent by far the greatest proportion of students in genuine need.
The Government must not be allowed to get away with it. There is evidence that education maintenance allowances improve FE stay-on rates. Where is the evidence in HE? Also, as Steve Hook reports on page 1, colleges are already cutting vital adult vocational education in the face of unexpected austerity.
The spending review in July will set budgets for 2005. Ministers need to be reminded that there are three strands to their learning and skills strategy: 14 to 19 education and training, the skills agenda and HE. To allow one element to prosper at the expense of the others - in effect, putting the brakes on FE development - is folly.
Charles Clarke and his team must be kept under constant pressure to account for any shortfall in college spending. What is the logic in overfeeding the universities if the colleges that supply them are starved?