Caroline Turing warns that Coalition cuts threaten the future of adult Further Education
ON 26 FEBRUARY THE GOVERNMENT RELEASED its annual Skills Funding Letter, setting out priorities and funding for English post-19 Further Education (FE) in the coming year. It all looks rather worthy, with plenty of fanfare for the government’s cherished apprenticeships scheme – and the letter’s release predictably garnered little in the way of media attention. FE – incorporated, corporatised and cut to the bone – has long been education’s poor relation. Stretched and underpaid staff perform minor miracles on a daily basis, giving hope and inspiration to those who’ve borne the brunt of austerity – migrants in need of language skills, so-called ‘NEETS’ let down by the school system and people who’ve found themselves out of work and with little choice but to retrain.
That the Skills Funding Letter spelled out yet more cuts to adult education – already suffering from the imposition of a fees system utterly discredited in our universities – was of no surprise. But what shocked ‘workers and even college principals’ across the sector was the sheer scale of them. With the apprenticeships budget protected, an 11% cut in funding overall means that non-apprenticeship adult FE faces its funding being slashed by 24% next year alone. The Association of Colleges has warned that these cuts could spell the end of adult FE in England, while UCU’s Sally Hunt has labelled it “an act of wilful vandalism”.
Were these cuts being aimed at schools or universities there would rightly be uproar – and yet Vince Cable is preparing to unleash on FE one of the Coalition’s most damaging cuts without an iota of bad press. A rapid mobilisation of support is vital if the public are to understand the incalculable social and economic costs of cutting those most in need adrift from educational opportunities.
A campaign backed by trade unions, employers’ bodies and college leaders has been formed to fight the cuts, and the emergence of such a united voice for the sector is both novel and tremendously important. But we should also be clear that the only real hope for FE is to take this message to the Labour leadership. Ed Miliband has made some encouraging noises on the protection of FE budgets. It’s up to us to keep the pressure on, seek assurances that this protection extends to adult education and to renew Labour’s commitment to education – from the cradle to the grave.
Sign the petition opposing the cuts here – www.ucu.org.uk/fefunding