FE funding that erodes the best;Letter

8th May 1998 at 01:00
What an interesting letter from Dr Clark (April 17) on how a college should be run. Obviously a large number of college boards are not as brave as his: most have refused to deal with the now "famous" Education Lecturing Services. Not many people would boast about a process that sacked 165 part-time lecturers and re-employed 115 at a 20 per cent salary reduction.

It would appear that the damaging delay in publication of the current grant in aid figures was partly caused by a reluctance of the Scottish Office to believe that the huge growths in student activity (at zero cost) claimed by some colleges were possible.

Selective amnesia was displayed when Dr Clark failed to mention the special treatment given to his college in a final fling by a desperate local MP, Michael Forsyth. The project for the new Falkirk annexe in Stirling is flaunted as a private finance initiative but requires a pound;2.3 million slice of the Scottish FE budget over the next three years to make it viable. All other Scottish colleges are paying for this indulgence.

Given the iniquities of Scottish FE funding, Dr Clark should be glad that other colleges have not followed his dynamic lead. If all colleges had managed Falkirk's claimed 38 per cent growth in weighted Student Units of Measurement, then nobody would have got an increase and, in fact, all colleges would have suffered a decrease in grant in aid. The sad truth is that there are many colleges that have shown big increases in student activity, in this and previous years, only to find their budgets cut.

The activities of the Falkirk board and its principal may be matters of derision in FE circles but there are serious repercussions. Their refusal to work purposefully with other Scottish colleges, together with their persistent claims for special treatment, have allowed the Scottish Office to claim a degree of credibility for an otherwise discredited funding process. Instead of focusing on the real needs of FE, colleges find themselves chasing efficiency targets that are impossible, with the resultant effects on staff and students .

Dr Clark and his board should realise that the enemy is not the other Scottish colleges but a funding system that erodes all that is best in Scottish FE.

Malcolm Liddle

Fir Park, Tillicoultry

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