UNISON survey finds majority of colleges cut courses and staff

A significant number of FE college courses and staff have been cut, Unison has found.

The union’s survey of 190 colleges revealed that 61 per cent have cut courses and 5,737 posts were also lost in the 2010/11 academic year. The figures were obtained by under the Freedom of Information Act.

In a press release, the University and College Union (UCU) said colleges cited the end of student grants and the education maintenance allowance as the main reason for the falling figures.

The union warned that the introduction of the 24+ Advanced Learning Loans was likely to exacerbate the situation.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: “If this trend of cutting continues quality will inevitably suffer. The further education sector simply cannot continue to be asked to do more for less.  Investment in our colleges is essential if we are to kick-start growth in the economy.

“With huge levels of unemployment, and at a time when other countries are investing in producing more highly-skilled workers, we simply cannot afford to be sacking staff and slashing opportunities.”

Martin Doel, chief executive at the Association of Colleges (AoC), said the organisation and its members were “concerned” about the impact of changes to funding and the introduction of 24+ Advanced Learning Loans on students.

“Research conducted by AoC last October – and again in January 2012 – tally with Unison’s findings that colleges experienced a drop in enrolment. Although the national picture was complex, our research showed an overall decline of 1.78% in student numbers which could not be solely attributed to demographic dip in this age group (16-18).

“Our member colleges reported that reasons for the drop-off included the abolition of the EMA, increased transport costs for students, and increased local competition. Many (79%) said the introduction of free lunches for college students from disadvantaged backgrounds would help with recruitment and retention, which acknowledges the fact many of our learners are from families who are really feeling the pinch during this double-dip recession.

“Our particular concern is the 6.4% drop in recruitment at entry level and a 6.6% drop in level 1 students; these are the young people most vulnerable to becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training) and the situation may be exacerbated by the loss of the Connexions service. We continue to raise with government the consequences of a rolling programme of regulatory change and funding cuts on this generation of young people.”