“A week is a long time in politics,” were famous words from Labour Prime Minister of the 1960s and 70s Harold Wilson. It stands to reason then, that a full five-year Parliament feels like a lifetime.
You might already be sick of the general election — the ‘costed spending commitments’, ‘the other lot have got their sums wrong’, and ‘yes but look, Ed Miliband lol.”
How much longer do we have to wait before UKip leader Nigel Farage gets a photo op at a college hair salon, or a college bar? Perhaps an English for Speakers of Other Languages class?
There’s never a dull moment in FE, goes the most overused sector cliché, and a lot has happened since our 2010 general election.
The parliament started with a re-emergence of mass student protests in London over education cuts and increases in university tuition fees (‘24+ Advanced Learning Loans’ was too hard to fit on to placards and has too many syllables to rhyme well).
We saw college students organise days of action opposing the abolition of Education Maintenance Allow-ance — even principals were getting involved.
Plans to devolve planning of 19+ FE to Regional Development Agencies were scrapped, and then Regional Development Agencies were scrapped. We had a ‘bonfire of the quangos’ in the public sector and the ‘big society’ to clear it up.
Some of what we do now is funded through a new loans system, which hasn’t had the desired impact, and is potentially about to
Then there was the higher education white paper that never happened, complete overhaul of the state school system and curriculum and an increase in 19+ apprenticeships to the tune of around 203,000.
We know already that no matter who makes up the next government, there’s even less money to go around
Even though we know that the next five years are going to be just as, if not more, difficult than the last five, there are some things I think we can learn and look out for.
Deciding to deal with university tuition fees so early in the parliament was a strategic move. It meant that an entire cohort of undergraduates could enrol and graduate under the new system and gave enough time to describe the fees increase as a success in terms of not negatively impacting on admissions of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Fantastic as it is to sugarcoat participation in this way, the unfortunate core of this political Smartie is that part-time and mature students have taken the brunt as the number of adults in learning continues to fall sharply.
We know already that no matter who makes up the next government, there’s even less money to go around.
Both of our core government departments will have a tough time balancing the books; the Department for Education with its forecasted funding shortfall of £4.6bn to accommodate increasing pupil numbers and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’s expensive system of student loans coupled with its vulnerability as a government department without a ring fence.
Something pretty drastic needs to happen; redressing inequalities in schools, FE and higher education would be a good start, but could go even further by properly linking together pre and unemployment services too.
Now if all of that sounds like a lot, picture FE in the entirety of public policy and the massive changes we’ve seen across the board in just five years.
There’s no way the FE Week editor will give me the word count to go through all of it, so I’ll end with a relevant and necessary call to action.
Thursday (February 5) is National Voter Registration Day (NVRD). FE has access to people of all ages and stages, learners and staff, and the outcome of the next election matters to every single one of us.
Registering to vote has never been easier. It can now be done online and Bite The Ballot has some free downloadable resources which would look great on your VLE. #NVRD