CRAVEN College has escaped the worst effects of £600,000 cut in its budget for older students, its principal has revealed.

Alan Blackwell said he was relieved that the 20 per cent reduction in Government-funded places had not led to a drastic loss in the number of post 19 learners or staff redundancies.

Mr Blackwell told the Herald that around 1,000 fewer places had been available, but courses had been repackaged as leisure learning courses and there had been 528 new enrolments on those.

He said: "I was greatly concerned with how this might affect the college. It takes a long time to build up a good quality reputation, and we were in danger of turning lots of people away, but this has patently not been the case."

Mr Blackwell added he had been pleased to see that, despite the price rises of up to 25 per cent in some courses, it had not deterred applicants.

At the same time the college learned it would have to take on fewer older students it found out it would have £450,000 allocated for full-time 16 to 18-year-old enrolments and work based learning apprenticeships.

As a result of this, the college now has a record 1,363 students of that age group on its roll and has been able to increase its tally of work-based learning apprentices to 193.

This swell in students has meant the college has had to take on 20 extra staff.

The principal told the Herald this week that staff had co-operated with the changes in the college's prospectus, despite some of them having to teach at slightly reduced rates.

He said head of widening participation Helen Lowe had been the mastermind behind the repackaging exercise, which had been done during the summer.

Mr Blackwell said: "Almost all language courses were repackaged, but on the positive side we included languages we had never done before like Japanese."

The cuts in funding for the post 19 age bracket, which were announced in May, hit colleges across the country.

Mr Blackwell said some institutions had not taken Craven's approach to repackage courses.

But he said: "We are rooted in the community. It would have been easy for the college to move away from its community and run the courses that just made money, but we thought we would go that extra mile."

The Association of Colleges started a petition when the news broke of the reduced funding and it will continue to lobby the Government.

Mr Blackwell said he had been overwhelmed by the support he had received from the community when it initially looked like the college would be facing a tough time.

"People were shocked to see how the Government was treating 'their' college and I was really taken aback by the number of district councillors and county councillors asking me what they could do, whether they should write to somebody.

"It felt like a protective blanket coming around the college, like it was an attack on their college," he said.