The Government must spend at least Pounds 240 million if it is to meet its further education targets, according to the Association for Colleges.
The organisation which represents 375 colleges, on all matters except for pay and conditions, has sent ministers a shopping list. It says at least Pounds 90 million is required to cope with a growth of 3 per cent in enrolments up to the year 2001; Pounds 40 million is needed to repair and rebuild college buildings; a further Pounds 80 million to pay for new equipment to keep pace with changing technologies; and Pounds 50 million to cover pay settlements and implement European legislation on part-time workers.
"The Government must learn from the mistakes of funding in the university sector which faltered from expansion to retraction. It must back up its political will with the money to see it through and remember that the FE sector educates far more students - and voters," said an AFC spokeswoman.
She also warned that while numbers in the 16 to 18 age group have declined in recent years, an increase is expected from 1.6 million in 1995 to 1.8 million in 2000. This would require an increase in full-time equivalent enrolments of approximately 40,000 from this age group alone.
The document, Further Education Colleges: Key Funding Needs for 1996-97 and Beyond, says that the FE sector has responded positively to the Government's reforms in the sector: with an increase in enrolment of 25 per cent (from 1989 to 1994), a more efficient use of lecturing staff and by making up the short fall of cutbacks by local authorities on discretionary awards.
The further education sector has also made a major contribution to the achievement of the original National Education and Training Targets, it claims.
But the report, which was written before the publication of exam results, shows concern about the effect expansion will have on the number that drop out: "Many colleges - especially those in the inner cities - report that in an area of high unemployment, motivation and retention rates are not very high and it is necessary to provide a more resource-intensive, practically orientated curriculum to maintain commitment."
The financial problems many colleges face, according to the AFC, are a legacy of local education authority control. The buildings are often in dire need of repair and are ill-suited to the learning needs of today.
Several colleges are withdrawing courses in such areas as welding, heating and ventilation and motor vehicle engineering and construction because of the high costs involved.
"Colleges have demonstrated unequivocally their ability to deliver the ambitious targets set for them on incorporation. They will continue to be dynamic, flexible and innovative. But if the nation is to have the skills base needed to compete successfully in the 21st century, it is vital that the necessary investment is made," it concludes.