Members of the University and College Union (UCU) will head to Liverpool tomorrow for the start of the union’s tenth annual congress — with the future of FE set to be a key topic up for discussion.
Delegates will vote on 35 FE-related motions during the three-day event at the ACC Liverpool — covering concerns over members’ pay, area reviews, “unprecedented” funding cuts, and implementation of the counter-terrorism Prevent duty placed on colleges by the government.
The ninth FE-related motion, for example, states that “this conference deplores the ongoing government programme of area reviews of FE, caused by the same government which systematically refuses to fund post-16 education adequately, whilst effectively making it compulsory for young people up to 18 to stay in education”.
It adds: “This is staggeringly hypocritical in that the government is exhorting colleges to work collaboratively and reduce competition whilst supporting a blinkered target-driven short-term approach to education.”
The main day dedicated to FE will be Thursday — but ahead of that UCU general secretary Sally Hunt will reflect, during her speech to conference tomorrow afternoon, on the tough financial climate facing the sector.
She will tell delegates: “Colleges and their staff really can’t win under a government that seems to have little understanding of what they do and why they are important to their communities.
“It is the cuts to public funding since 2010 that has created this [financial] weakness.”
She will add: “We meet at a time of extraordinary change.
“With white papers on schools, skills and higher education, the wrongness of the government’s vision won’t make the changes they propose any less real.”
Ms Hunt will also announce plans for a joint national demonstration to defend education in the autumn with UCU’s sister organisation, the National Union of Students.
Our very own FE Week editor will also be on a panel discussing what colleges can do to increase their market share of apprenticeship provision. This was criticised by the Skills Minister in November at the Association of Colleges (AoC) conference for being just 30 per cent.
Andrew Harden, head of FE at UCU, told FE Week today ahead of conference: “Clearly pay will be a big topic. We are getting to a situation where we are getting on towards a 20 per cent real cut in pay since 2009, so there will be a big debate about that around how we can get back what would look like meaningful national bargaining.
“Obviously area reviews are a big concern for the sector and that will be one of the bigger and longer discussions.”
He added that chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw’s damning comments to MPs on FE would still be a hot topic for discussion.
It comes after the Ofsted boss caused widespread anger across the sector by telling the Commons Education Select Committee in March that 16-to-19-year-olds should be taught in schools rather than colleges, because FE was “in a mess”.
See below for the full list of FE-related topics for motions going before this year’s conference: