'Blank cheque' for further education

EXPANSION of further education to more than a million students in England in two years is being supported with a 'blank cheque' from the Treasury.

The decision revealed yesterday represents a victory for John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, and the new Further Education Funding Council in this year's tight public spending round. It comes at a time when the open- ended commitment to university students is under threat and local authorities have warned of reduced school budgets.

Funding for more than 500 further education and sixth-form colleges is to increase by 6 per cent when they leave local authority control in April 1993. For that, the government expects an 8 per cent increase in students.

From April colleges will be entitled to pounds 750 for every full-time student enrolled. While the sum does not cover the full cost of teaching students, it is not cash-limited. If a college exceeds the target set by the funding council it is still entitled to the money. William Stubbs, chief executive of the funding council, said: 'It is a significant incentive to colleges to enrol more students.' He added that the same rules would be extended to part-time students in subsequent years and that laboratory or workshop-based courses could in future attract higher rates than classroom-based courses.

Money for buildings and equipment for the sector has been boosted by 62 per cent after a survey commissioned by the council which revealed a large amount of work necessary just to allow colleges to stay within health and safety laws. A total of pounds 68m has been allocated by the funding council for health and safety works in the coming year.

The funding council has earmarked a pounds 7m increase for support to students with special educational needs.

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