Computer-generated data is causing headaches for colleges. Steve Hook reports
COLLEGES have been promised that one of their biggest bureaucratic headaches will be soothed in the New Year.
Confusion over further education funding methodology has been made worse by the computer technology used to process college funding claims.
And the tide of queries from baffled financial directors has been met with bewilderment by local learning and skills councils after they were given responsibility by their head office in Coventry for providing a helpline.
The problems come when learner records are transferred into LSC software, inexplicably referred to as the Learning Information Suite, which is supposed to crunch the numbers and calculate the college's funding allocation.
The system is also used during the year for colleges to keep control of their budgets by getting a forecast of their income, but its calculations often do not tally with the colleges' own financial assessment.
Julian Gravatt, finance director of the City Lit, London, said: "Neither the LSC nor colleges can be confident in the data or what the systems are telling them. This generates a fog around whether targets are being met which creates either panic or anger."
An LSC spokeswoman said implementation of changes in the funding formula had proved too much for the software to cope with.
She said: "The timescale for implementation has been extremely tight. We accept there have been teething problems, which will be resolved this month."
The LSC is working with the Association of Colleges to put things right.
The local LSC helplines are expected to be scrapped. The level of service varies greatly between areas.
The LSC's spokeswoman said: "We are going to review the system at the end of March. There will be an honest review of how things are going."
Individual learner records were found to be among college principals'
biggest pet-hates when FE Focus carried out a national survey of their concerns. Some 76 per cent said they were a top priority in terms of reducing bureaucracy.
Management time was being increasingly taken up by the "infernal triangle caused by the funding methodology, individual learner records and ILR audit," according to one principal.
Reg Chapman, principal of Blackpool and the Fylde College, said: "About pound;13 million of our budget is ILR-related. It is a big headache in colleges when in December you still don't know what your financial position is."
A pithy LSC document explaining the system to colleges includes the advice:
"If the total unweighted national base rate per period for key skills is less than the standard figure of pound;198.84 (one third of pound;596.53), it adds extra entitlement funding to a "pseudo-aim" (with an aim sequence of 99) to make the total base rate up to that figure."
One principal told FE Focus: "Thinking you understand what all this means is the first sign of madness."