Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Financial Health Is Improving despite Cuts: Fe News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Financial Health Is Improving despite Cuts: Fe News

Article excerpt

Skills Funding Agency boss says colleges are rising to challenges.

College finances are the healthiest they have been since the global economic crisis began, despite funding cuts, the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) has revealed.

Although staff at K College in Kent went on strike this week in a dispute over how to reduce an Pounds 11 million budget deficit, Kim Thorneywork (pictured right), whose appointment as interim chief executive of the SFA was announced in May, said that the overall financial position of colleges is improving.

"Where we are now is that we have fewer colleges in poor financial health than we had two years ago," she said, in her first interview in post, "because genuinely they've understood, responded to policy, restructured and got themselves in the right place for the future."

Four out of 10 colleges are now rated as outstanding for financial health, the agency said, compared with 29 per cent in 2008. The change has mostly come from colleges formerly rated as satisfactory improving their score: these have fallen from 37 per cent to 23 per cent of the total.

Ms Thorneywork believes that most colleges made cuts early so they would be less likely to need further restructuring despite more funding reductions ahead.

"The vast majority of colleges respond incredibly well and incredibly quickly to challenges," she said, adding: "I very rarely meet college principals who aren't very optimistic about the future. If you go back to 2010, there was a lot of gloom and doom and talk that 40 per cent of colleges would fall over and become inadequate. Well, that absolutely hasn't happened."

Some of that talk came from her predecessor, Geoff Russell, although it is worth noting that 80 colleges received additional support in 2010 to prevent them falling into financial difficulty.

But Ms Thorneywork - a former secondary school teacher, in contrast to Mr Russell's background in corporate accountancy - hopes the agency will embrace a new tone under her leadership.

"I hope they will feel that I do understand at quite a grass-roots level the day-to-day work of a college or training provider, interacting with and teaching young people and adults. And also understanding how to run an organisation, and having a passion for education and training," she said. …

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