Funding method 'our big mistake'

10th November 2000 at 00:00
The FEFC's David Melville bows out with a look at the highs and lows of its short life. Harvey McGavin reports.

THE much-maligned funding methodology was the biggest weakness of the Further Education Funding Council's regime, chief executive David Melville has admitted.

In a frank assessment of the council's seven-year existence, Mr Melville said that the notoriously complicated system had too many rules and was too inflexible.

Speaking to The TES after addressing the FEFC's final annual general meeting in Birmingham last week, he said: "Inevitably we had a detailed methodology. Although we did try to simplify it, in many ways it proved too inflexible."

Having set himself two targets when he started the job - to visit a college every week and to reduce bureaucracy - he exceeded the first (he has been to 300 colleges in four years) but said he had come "nowhere near" achieving the latter.

His other "big disappointment" was that the Association of Colleges had not emerged as a stronger advocate for the sector. "There was an opportunity for the college sector and the AoC to become a powerful voice which was lost in the Roger Ward years."

Overall, the Learning and Skills Council, which takes over the FEFC's functions next April, will inherit a much more unified sector than the diverse collection of colleges that the FEFC had been aced with on incorporation in 1993, he said. "We have moved the educational debate forward, and also created a sector out of a set of disparate institutions."

An atmosphere of mild anxiety at the uncertain prospect of the LSC, mixed with discreet backslapping at the achievements of the departing regime, pervaded the FEFC's final AGM.

Its chairman Bryan Davies said David Melville had "played a huge role in ensuring that the sector met increasing demands from government".

she urged the sector to make sure that the transition "moves forward as smoothly as possible" and that colleges "continue to provide a service to students of which we can be proud and from which they can benefit."

NATFHE general secretary Paul Mackney said the FEFC had gone up in his estimation since David Melville took over. "Under the last government and when Bill Stubbs was in charge it was 'pile em deep, teach em cheap.' The second stage was a switch to a more high-quality model."

College principals expressed some regret at the passing of their paymasters and inspectors.

Alan Birks, principal of South Birmingham College, said the introduction of funding according to student numbers rather than "grace and favour allocations", transparency and funding for growth ("even though franchising went badly wrong") had made the FEFC a "breath of fresh air".

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