Pounds 6.8m extra for Welsh colleges could save jobs
Reconsideration of further education funding in Wales has spared colleges from budget cuts next year, although some may still struggle to cover predicted staff pay rises and may have to shed jobs.
The Welsh Assembly government has allocated a total of almost Pounds 6.8 million more to 15 of the 25 Welsh colleges in 2009-10. The money effectively tops up the sums allocated to these colleges in January this year, which left them with less grant than they had in 2008-09. The extra money means that no Welsh college will now see its grant for next year fall.
In total, the Assembly government found an extra Pounds 8.9m for further education in Wales, of which colleges receive the bulk and sixth-form colleges are allocated an additional Pounds 2.16m. This brings the final allocation for further education in Wales in 2009-10 to Pounds 400.6m.
The body representing Welsh colleges, fforwm, welcomed the additional money, which followed an outcry from colleges facing grant cuts. Colleges had feared they would have to cut up to 500 jobs across the sector as a result.
John Graystone, chief executive of fforwm, said: "The additional funding will go some way to mitigate the worst effects of increasing costs, and will help colleges to be more responsive to the needs of businesses and their local communities in these difficult times."
However, fforwm remains worried that some job cuts may still be necessary because of the rising wage bill for lecturers.
The Assembly government insists as a condition of funding that FE institutions maintain pay parity with school teachers. Fforwm points out that teachers are expecting a 2.3 per cent pay rise in 2009-10, which could add Pounds 12m to college expenditure, it says.
However, the University and College Union, which also welcomed the extra money, said there should now be no need for redundancies in the sector.
Guy Stoate, chair of the UCU Cymru FE committee, said: "This is great news for further education and also for the Welsh economy. With this additional funding, jobs and courses can be protected and the sector can play its part in the recovery of our economy.
"Now the onus is on the colleges, and we expect every institution previously considering job losses to call a halt to their plans. We have said all along that the middle of a recession is not the time to be making qualified lecturers redundant when the economy needs them more than ever."
Dr Graystone said: "UCU's line is that everything is now sorted, but colleges have had tough settlements over the past few years and they will now want to review their budgets. They will try their level best to avoid redundancies where possible, but we cannot rule them out at some colleges."
A spokesperson from the Welsh Assembly government said: "The package of funding was a corporate response to the pressures arising from the current economic circumstances, with our education, lifelong learning and skills department, Dcells, being at the forefront of the government's response.
"The funding for these responses to the recession has been drawn from reserves and innovative use of European funding, as one would expect given the circumstances and the need for a whole government response."
Spending on further education in Wales has grown just under 5 per cent since 2007-08.