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Saturday, February 12, 2005

FE sector under siege

13 of the 23 Further Education Colleges in Wales face a combined deficit of over £7 million this year. In the Assembly on Wednesday the Education Minister sought to defend her funding regime for these colleges arguing that the FE sector had received increases of 21% since ELWa was formed about four years ago, yet her arguments were flawed.

When the Education and Lifelong Learning Committee went to see ELWa it was made plain to us that the vast majority of this funding had gone into achieving pay parity between lecturers and teachers. Indeed this money had been earmarked for that with all-party agreement. What did not have all-party agreement however was the failure to provide sufficient increases for colleges on top of that funding so as to enable them to meet other pay and inflation demands and to allow for the expansion in numbers being promoted by the Government. Inevitably, that situation was going to throw up deficits and this is what has happened.

Many of the Colleges who have deficits have been given a financial clean bill of health in the way that they are run. This is not the problem. ELWa officials told us that they did not believe that the present level of funding for FE is sustainable in the long-term. It seems that publicly at least the Minister is not prepared to accept that despite the evidence presented to her.

On Wednesday the Minister sought to hide behind the new planning and funding framework, but all that does is distribute the same amount of cash in a different way. If more money is diverted to FE then it is at the expense of sixth forms or work-based training. The Welsh Assembly Government seeks to portray itself as committed to lifelong learning and indeed, have met a number of their targets in that field, and yet that commitment has to be called into question when they underfund an important sector like FE.
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