From education to employment

New Letter to College Principals on Funding in the Coming Year from LSC Resource Director

After receiving the final submissions from FE colleges regarding his earlier letter of the 2nd of June, David Russell, National Director of Resources at the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), sent a fresh document to college principals detailing the funding decisions for 2005 / 2006.

Mr. Russell cites the overall increase in funding, both when considering just this year and when viewing the progress made in the past four years. However, the document fails to allay the fears found in many circles regarding the reduction in absolute terms of the adult learning provision; and the document indicates that the rise in direct investment from central government will slow still further during 2006 / 2007.

Reasons to be Cheerful”¦

As Mr. Russell points out in his letter, there are reasons for cheer in the sector. Whilst the rate of increase for investment has slowed, there has still been an improvement. Thanks to the now submitted information from some colleges who were not as quick in responding as others, the original figure from the 2nd of June of 4.3% can now be revised upwards, to 4.4%.

Within this overall increase, the news is particularly positive for the 16 ““ 18 bracket, with an overall increase in funding of 10.4%. This comes at a time when the government has set stiff targets for education provision up to the age of 18, and therefore outstrips the anticipated 3% rise in the numbers of learners. In the field of Additional Learning Support (ALS), there has also been an increase of some 2.8% in funding.

Mr. Russell also points out that in the longer term the growth of funding has been prodigious; the average investment per Full Time Learner (or FTL) has risen by approximately 30.1% between 2002 / 2003 and 2005 / 2006. He also stresses that the increase in funding above the rate of new recruitment of learners for the 16 ““ 18 education bracket is at least in part due to the success in retention and achievement rates. As another positive note, the letter estimates that some 91% of FE colleges will enjoy a funding rise, with three quarters experiencing a rise in budget above the 2.5% average and almost half receiving 5% or more.

Any Rose Has Thorns”¦

But all is not rosy in the garden of FE funding. Whilst the news may be positive for the 16 ““ 18 age bracket, provision for learning at 19+ level has experienced an actual cut in funding, of approximately 2.9%. This will hit providers and councils hard where they have little 16 ““ 18 provision, and seems certain to exacerbate the current dismay at the drawdown in adult learning provision. There have been a number of items that have featured recently in the press regarding this situation, which can be reviewed in the article archive here at FE News.

Thus it is difficult to see the funding document in an entirely positive light, even when the increase overall is impressive. For instance, as is referred to in the letter, the Eastern Region had the third highest rise in funding overall, and yet is seeing an 11% reduction in funding for adult learning. Thus the rise in 16 ““ 18 provision, and the government’s prioritisation of this, clearly diverts some funding from adult learning.

The budgeting is based on a number of factors, and not simply meeting the government’s requirements to fit their political agenda. Aside from recognising shifts in the demographic make ““ up of the learners within any given area, and aside from taking into account the shifts in the balance within learners between different sectors, the performance of the provider is also considered. Thus the small number of colleges who did not enjoy a budget increase lost out by not meeting the stipulations of their 2004 / 2005 budget agreement.

What Lies Ahead?

Far from being a temporary situation, Mr. Russell admits that the future funding for the FE sector remains a thorny issue. With an anticipated rise of just 2.2% across the sector into 2006 / 2007, compared with this year’s 4.4%, Mr. Russell warned that there would be “difficult decisions for both the LSC and FE Institutions”. Adult Learning seems sure to be the hardest hit once again, with Mr. Russell suggesting that FE colleges and institutions should “continue the process of exploring options for increasing fee income.”

The figures speak for themselves; whilst it is inaccurate to call it a funding cut, it must be recognised that the rate of increase in funding has slowed dramatically, and looks set to do so again in the coming years. Furthermore, not only has post 19’s share of the funding decreased over the course of the past four years, but now there is an absolute cut in funding allocated to provide for a larger increase in the 16 ““ 18 provision.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating ““ it remains to be seen just how big a pudding is put on the plate.

Jethro Marsh

A full belly? Or will we be tightening our belts with funding pangs? Tell us in the FE Blog

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