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University funding threatens colleges

Ministers warned that most students will lose out if FE becomes an even poorer relation, Steve Hook reports

Colleges claim the country's most deprived students are being left out in the cold as the Government bows to universities' demands for more cash.

They say Chancellor Gordon Brown has left further education with little to gain in the Budget as ministers set their sights on 30 per cent growth in university funding.

And the Association of Colleges says the financial pressure on FE is creating a "fault line" in the Government's policy of widening participation in post-16 education.

The association wants an extra pound;1.9 million and says the cracks caused by under-funding are already beginning to appear in some colleges, with adult courses being cut.

Julian Gravatt, director of funding and development at the AoC, said: "The Government has made a number of concessions on HE funding and that is going to leave things a little tight for meeting the needs of the majority of the population in schools and colleges."

In a briefing paper issued this week, the AoC says: "Widening the intake (to university) means raising the achievement of those who do not achieve their full potential at school or college.

"It is apparent that there is simply insufficient money for colleges to pay for these targets. Cuts in adult learning will result."

The AoC wants ministers to re-think their priorities in the public spending review, to take effect from 2005.

In what will be seen as an early bid for more generous treatment from Education Secretary Charles Clarke the AoC this week accused the Government of shooting itself in the foot by crippling further education's attempt to get more adults up to university entrance standards.

The Liberal Democrats recently highlighted the case of a university student who was unable to get a mortgage because of her debts but the AoC says there is a class divide in the debate over student finance.

The needs of FE students, many of whom struggled at school, are often greater, it says, and yet they get less funding. It says the bias in the Government's approach is highlighted by the difference in student support - including loans and grants.

The AoC has been campaigning for education maintenance allowances, which will be available nationally in September, to be increased from a maximum of pound;30 a week to pound;40.

FE, which caters for 3.5 million students, gets pound;150m in student support. Higher education, with 1.6m students, gets pound;3 billion.

This is despite the fact that, according to AoC figures, there is little evidence of people deciding not to go to university for financial reasons, while the Government's own research into maintenance allowances show finances do influence decisions about FE.

The AoC's research shows that 92 per cent of people with three A-levels go on to university, implying that spending more on FE courses would be more effective than alleviating the perceived and widely-reported financial hardships of life at university.

Among the families of unskilled and manual workers, only 27 per cent of children gain two A-levels and 30 per cent get five good GCSEs.

The AoC says universities are rich by public-sector standards, with more than 1,000 staff earning more than pound;100,000 a year. It says many are already recruiting in anticipation of the increase in funding guaranteed by the Higher Education Bill. And FE students have found themselves the poor relations of those in HE who are, stressed an AoC spokeswoman, "relatively better off".

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