Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Throw Us More Than a Bone, Urges AoC Chief: Fe Comment

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Throw Us More Than a Bone, Urges AoC Chief: Fe Comment

Article excerpt

New initiatives could affect struggling colleges' core budgets.

Colleges have had their funding cut down to "bones levels" and could be forced to become "bidding machines" as they try to secure additional pockets of cash to stay afloat, the Association of Colleges (AoC) fears.

Martin Doel, the AoC's chief executive, has paid tribute to colleges for maintaining their student numbers despite economic pressures, but warned that an increasing number of policy initiatives could eat into their core budgets.

Speaking exclusively to TES, Mr Doel said he had already told Matthew Hancock, the new FE minister, of colleges' support for the legacy of "freedom and flexibility and autonomy" put in place by the previous incumbent, John Hayes.

"Participation is holding up, while the rate for the job for colleges has gone down," he said. "I'm very concerned that colleges are running these things at near their bones levels. While colleges are getting the numbers in, in some cases they are only barely spending their allocation because the rates have been constrained.

"That, I think, can't continue, because their ability to cross-subsidise hard-to-reach students, to deliver the types of things local authorities are asking them to do... is constrained by their (limited) ability to reinvest in facilities and their staff."

But Mr Doel insisted that both the government and the FE sector have much more to do if colleges are to take advantage of their increased autonomy. "That's not something you would achieve with six months to a year; a cultural change is needed.

"Progress on this is partial on both sides. A lot of the sector is still littered with previous control regimes; the ideas have taken hold but the behaviour needs to follow."

Mr Doel also hit out at the plethora of recent announcements that he fears could ultimately divert funding from colleges' core provision. "We'll have a series of partial initiatives, from the employer ownership pilot, from what the Heseltine review (of links between the public and private sectors) may come up with, to the city growth strategy initiatives, LEPs (local enterprise partnerships) flexing their muscles and the Local Government Association saying that funding will return to local authorities.

"Some of those initiatives may be more sound than others. There's the risk, I think, that one at a time they, almost by a process of gradation, eat into the single-line adult budget that colleges have to serve their communities, the consequence of which could be (that) colleges become a series of bidding machines that bid for those various streams of funding. …

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