Further FE cuts ‘disastrous’, sector warns

Further cuts to FE would be “disastrous,” sector leaders have warned amid claims another £48bn could be slashed from government budgets.

Sector leaders have warned that FE cannot cope with another round of harsh cuts after already shouldering the burden of a 35 per cent cut in the adult skills budget and a 17.5 per cent cut to the funding rate for 18-year-olds in this Parliament.

It comes after the Financial Times warned that the cuts needed in the next Parliament would be higher than the £25bn suggested by the Prime Minister, and the Guardian predicted that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills would be affected, placing the burden directly on FE.

Stephan Jungnitz

Stephan Jungnitz

Stephan Jungnitz, colleges expert at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Further cuts to FE funding would be disastrous. There are simply no more efficiency savings to be had. Funding cuts have already forced colleges to cut the opportunities for students, further cuts to college funding will damage the skills and training of a generation of young people.

“Only this week [November 10] the CBI highlighted to the prime minister the shortage of suitably skilled applicants.  For too many vacancies, businesses have to look abroad. We urgently need to invest in our home grown pool of talent to secure our future economic well-being.

“ASCL along with other organisations has been lobbying hard for fair and sufficient post-16 funding and we will not let up in our campaign.”

Lynne Sedgmore, the executive director of the 157 Group, said: “We are always vigilant to any potential future cuts and will be working hard with ministers, officials and others in the sector to ensure that FE, which has already suffered more than its fair share of funding reduction, is not targeted again.”

Sixth Form Colleges’ Association deputy chief executive James Kewin said: “The spending review post-2015 is critical. Three funding cuts in three years have

James Kewin

James Kewin

already damaged sixth form colleges.

“Our funding impact survey showed that the high performance of sixth form colleges is under serious threat as a result of government cuts to the sector’s funding. 68 per cent of sixth form colleges have had to drop courses as a result of the funding cuts – a 15 percentage point increase on last year.

“Over a third of Sixth Form Colleges (38 per cent) have been forced to drop courses in modern foreign languages and more than a fifth (22 per cent) have cut STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths).

“So we desperately need additional investment, not further cuts. The government could make a start my keeping a closer eye on the amount it spends on pet projects.

“The call for more cuts is hard to square with the fact that the government has no idea how much it has cost to open the 138 new school and academy sixth forms established since 2011, the £62 million investment in nine 16 to 19 free schools between 2010 and 2013 – an average of £6,853,613 per institution – that will educate 1557 students (if they hit their recruitment targets, which looks very unlikely).”

Sally Hunt

Sally Hunt

University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said: “The recent speculation about increasingly savage cuts to public budgets is deeply concerning. We must continue to fight proposals for cuts to public funding for post-school education which risk leaving us poorer in the long run by lowering skills levels and damaging education infrastructure.

“Investment in further and higher education benefits society, offers a great return for the taxpayer and should continue to be a major priority for government; businesses need skilled employees and education is central to maintaining our global competitiveness.”

Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Stewart Segal said: “Failure to ensure adequate investment in skills other than to meet short term needs will only exacerbate the skills deficit, to the advantage of our global competitors.

“The welcome cross-party consensus to significantly expand the apprenticeship programme in the next Parliament obviously has positive implications for

Stewart Segal

Stewart Segal

expenditure on the programme, but tackling youth unemployment via traineeships and supporting the long-term unemployed back into work with the help of skills training should also be priorities.

“Economic recovery will only be sustainable if we satisfy the skills and recruitment needs of employers.  With ministers worried about tax revenues from corporates and individuals, the potential return on investment in skills and apprenticeships is clear as the National Audit Office has previously reported.”

The Treasury has not yet responded to a request for a comment.

See FE Week edition 118, dated Monday, November 17, for more.