Rise in place numbers triggers concern over colleges' capacity

26th March 2010 at 00:00

The government has announced the creation of yet more further education places, sparking concern about whether colleges will be able to cope.

The sector has already had millions of pounds in additional support poured into it to ensure colleges respond to the surge in demand for places as a result of the recession.

The importance of the latest announcement, which will see 4,100 new places established at a cost of pound;15.3 million, was underlined by the fact that it came from First Minister Alex Salmond. They are intended for colleges serving the most deprived areas.

It follows a pound;16m package last year to create another 3,000 college places, pound;7m to help them retrain redundant workers and emergency injections of pound;21.9m for student support.

The latest tranche is made up of pound;6.9m, which is "new" money from European structural funds, and pound;8.4m from a pot of resources which was already announced in June last year.

David Belsey, national officer for further and higher education with the Educational Institute of Scotland, welcomed the new finance which he said was "a testament to the ability of FE colleges and their lecturers to deliver quality education and training".

But he warned: "The EIS will need to be convinced that all these extra places will be properly resourced at college level and not simply added to existing classes.

"We hope that these extra spaces will not be provided to the detriment of existing students, and will raise lecturer workload issues directly with colleges and the Scottish Government if the resources provided are inadequate."

Although the colleges have been notable beneficiaries of the recession, the extra cash is being pumped in amid anxiety about their overall financial position. Income from European sources, investments and commercial contracts is set to tumble, while pressures from pension commitments and student support continue to grow.

On the other hand, colleges have emerged better than universities from the Government's financial allocations for 2010-11, receiving an additional 4.5 per cent real-terms increase compared with a 2 per cent rise for higher education (representing an extra pound;44.8m and pound;42.9m respectively). Individual colleges will learn how much each will get in the annual grant letter to be issued on April 16.

- The Government has exceeded its target of 18,500 modern apprenticeships with new starts of nearly 20,000 since last April, First Minister Alex Salmond announced.

The drive to create new apprenticeships, at a cost of pound;16m, was the result of acceptance by the SNP of Labour's demand for the investment during negotiations over the Government's budget last year.

Neil Munro neil.munro@tes.co.uk.

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