FE spending cannot compete

5th April 1996 at 01:00
I can understand why poorly-funded colleges would wish to strip cash from apparently wealthier brethren in order to improve the service they can offer ("Efficiency bonus plea", FE Focus, March 15). No one would defend irrational differences in college resourcing. There are, however, solid reasons why it would be unwise to push the pace of convergence any faster than at the moment.

First, there is the problem of manageability. Colleges with higher unit costs are being cut more sharply than any others in the system.

At Lambeth, a typical "high average level of funding" college, our unit costs are 30 per cent down on three years ago, and we are currently in the business of taking Pounds 1million out of our costs for the third year running. Twenty per cent of London colleges are already in the FEFC safety net: cut any faster, and we'll all fall over.

Second, there are grounds for doubting the accuracy of the cost comparison figures. College returns have yet to be audited, and the wild differences between college positions in the unit of funding league table against the earlier cost per student league table give grounds for caution. Non-FEFC earnings are ignored, and apparently cheap colleges often receive large amounts of public money via training and enterprise councils or Europe.

Third, the FEFC funding system currently makes no reference to local circumstances. Brixton and Bracknell are funded exactly the same, no matter what the social context or student mix. This is a topic that the FEFC's Kennedy Committee is shortly to report upon. Let's not do damage to inner-city colleges one year that will need to be put right expensively the following year.

The fact is that the FE system is under-funded in relation to our international competitors. Public spending is being forced down, not to reward efficient colleges, but to finance tax cuts for the election.

ADRIAN PERRY Principal Lambeth College 45 Clapham Common South Side London SW4

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