Catering colleges have warned that they don't have enough money to teach the Professional Cookery Diploma, owing to a spending cap imposed by the Government.
Industry sources said that the well-regarded one-year diploma - one of the new Vocationally Related Qualifications (VRQs) introduced to replace City and Guilds 706 qualifications - took 900 hours to teach but that colleges were getting funding to cover only about 790 hours.
The spending cap was announced by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills earlier this month.
"We are having to deliver courses that we no longer have funds for," said one head of a catering college, who asked not to be named. "We are having to subsidise the chef diploma course from other areas of our funding."
The source estimated the funding shortfall was about £400-£500 per pupil for the one-year course.
Despite winning praise from leading chefs and catering colleges, the diploma has had to battle for cash since it was launched in 2006. Another head of a catering college warned: "The risk is that the qualification is being watered down."
The Learning and Skills Council (LSC), which allocates the funding for the VRQs, said catering colleges received between £7,500 and £8,000 per learner under the cap, but admitted this was not enough to deliver the course in one year.
Geoff Daniels, director of funding policy at the LSC, told Caterer: "The Professional Cookery Diploma was originally designed to be delivered over two years. Where a college delivers the qualification in one year they will not receive the full funding, owing to the funding cap which limits the maximum amount which the Government will pay for one learner in one year."
Daniels confirmed that the LSC was in talks with Sector Skills Council People 1st to find a resolution to what he described as an "unusual" situation.
By Nick Huber