Richard Evans is the Chairman of the CIPHE’s Education and Training Group. In this issue of ETM, he looks at some of the financial problems affecting colleges.

We need action!

Yet again parliament is discussing the future of the Further Education Sector. During this period of austerity the topic is very much alive as the government tack- les, or should that be attacks, public sector spending. FE has always been an easy target, little understood or given the recognition it deserves. Massive cuts are being introduced across college budgets e.g. 24%+ at Liverpool College and as a result staff are being made redundant and more are employed on fixed term or zero hour contracts.

This is bad enough but a number of politicians are suggesting that the sector is increasingly irrelevant, arguing that the other sectors of education and the private sector can make the provision. The appearance of academies, specialist schools, free schools and the like and the raising of the school leaving age to 18, does not help the case for colleges. Many politicians seem to imagine the provision can be developed and delivered in these other institutions, again reflecting their ignorance of technical and vocational education.

Sadly, it reflects the fact that technical education and training and its providers have been treated as second best for many decades. Since the Great Exhibition technical education has witnessed many false dawns, been bombarded with volumes of empty rhetoric with little long term improvement and this situation continues today. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and establishing an effective revitalised manufacturing base, it must fully recognise the key role the sector must play in this endeavour. The government should recognise that colleges and other training providers must be significantly involved in the development of high quality appren- ticeship programmes with employers and major programmes in technical and vocational education and training.

Actions that must be taken:

  • College staff must lobby their profess- ional organisations and employers they work with, to make it clear to politicians of all persuasions that the sector is essential in creating the highly qualified workforce of the future and play a major part in improving the current low skills levels so prevalent in this country.
  • A fundamental review and reform of education and training in this country
    to be carried out to establish an effective FE sector that is recognised, secure and well-resourced and given equal status with schools and universities.
  • College staff, particularly Senior and members of the Governors to lobby local MPs and get them to visit the colleges regularly to see their work.
  • Colleges to work together with the organisations that represent the sector again to constantly lobby all the appro- priate parties.
  • Get former students to champion the advantages and merits of colleges and their qualifications.
  • Get rid of the differential funding regimes between young and older students and those pursuing different modes of attendance/delivery.
  • Treat all the sectors fairly, particularly in their resources. The average funding for FE students is £2,000 as opposed to £9,000 for university students.
  • The message must be tap all possible networks in order to broadcast the importance of the sector and its work or it will be consigned to history.

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