Why should London principals get more cake?

7th November 1997 at 00:00
A working party has recommended that colleges in the capital should receive up to Pounds 1m extra each. Andrew Middleton disagrees

I am one of two non-London principals who were belatedly added to the Further Education Funding Council's London costs committee after its purpose and membership were fixed at a first meeting. We were not part of that debate.

I had, on learning of the group's existence, questioned the FEFC's chief executive on the soundness of a special interest group, filled, except for the chairman, with London principals, and served by a team of FEFC officers led by the head of the London office.

A recommendation for increased resources for London colleges is the unsurprising outcome. I am not aware that the needs of other colleges have received such special attention.

The committee received extensive data supporting a substantially increased weighting for salaries in London colleges. I have asked that this data be published for allcolleges in the further education sector to evaluate.

In the limited arena of a committee dominated by London principals, challenges from the two non-London principals to the equity of possible outcomes were inevitably outnumbered. Evidence I presented of particular needs from many non-London colleges was not circulated to the group.

London colleges are naturally concerned about the loss of their historically high average levels of funding (ALF). Convergence should eventually remove this inherited advantage. Low ALF colleges which have never had the benefit of excess funding, understandably are angry that high ALF colleges have been treated so generously for so long, while they have been expected to survive, in some cases, with as little as half as much funding.

If the FEFC's policy, as evidenced by the London Costs Group, (and the Kennedy Report on widening participation in further education) has changed from a market-led distribution of an inadequate FE cake, to one of funding according to college-argued need, this should not happen until the needs of all sector colleges are equally considered. For the FEFC to "sponsor" a London college interest, without equal attention to other colleges, is inequitable and unlikely to assist sector unity.

Equity and justice require the following steps:

* the unique costs of operating outside London must be equally explored and tested;

* the robustness of the data supporting increased London salary weighting should be openly examined;

* advantages for London colleges such as a concentrated market, extensive public transport and sometimes high property disposal values require inclusion;

* if greater need is objectively and transparently established, a full sector debate on this change in funding strategy is essential;

* any resultant increases should only happen concurrently with full convergence of ALFs. Otherwise double funding will result.

Andrew Middleton is principal of Stamford College, Lincolnshire, and a member of the Further Education Funding Council's London Costs Group

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