Over 80 per cent of college and adult learning providers that were set to be stung by an adult education budget clawback have had some reprieve.
Providers in receipt of AEB grants in 2020/21 were told that they would only receive their full funding if they could prove they had delivered at least 90 per cent of their allocation for that year.
This sparked fury at the time, with affected colleges arguing that the pandemic had meant students stayed at home and classes couldn’t run.
Fuelling discontent was the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s refusal to budge, telling the sector in March last year that “there will not be a business case process” for providers to challenge the clawback and that their decision “will not be subject to change”.
After months of protests, the agency finally agreed to accept business cases from colleges where the clawback could be “destabilising” and that could prove funding for “eligible costs” should be retained.
Delayed outcomes of those business cases were finally communicated to colleges and providers in December.
In response to a parliamentary question from the shadow apprenticeships and lifelong learning minister, Toby Perkins, the Department for Education revealed that 78 providers had submitted a business case.
Of those, 58 had come from general further education colleges and of those, 48 were successful.
The remaining 20 submissions came from other grant-funded providers, of which 17 were successful.
Leicester College, which challenged the agency’s 90 per cent threshold, had its business case supported, which was “good news for stability ̶ demand for adult education in Leicester remains high”, deputy principal Shabir Ismail told FE Week.
But the threat of the clawback and the delay in decisions around business cases, “forced us to make some strategic decisions to protect our financial position,” Ismail added. “We had to massively scale back our plans for T Level capital investment and put a hold on staff recruitment.”
The ten colleges and three other adult providers whose business cases were unsuccessful were able to appeal before the Christmas break.
The outcomes of those appeals are expected to be confirmed by the end of this month, DfE told FE Week, with final funding claims due to be published at the end of March.
One college currently awaiting the results of its appeal, which did not wish to be named, told FE Week that planning has been “extremely difficult.
“We will, of course, work with the agency on a resolution, but we believe our business case stands up. This is a process that should have been over months ago. Going into another term with a big question mark over last year’s budget has made planning extremely difficult.”