Lib Dems commit to defending 16 to 19 funding

Lib Dems commit to defending 16 to 19 funding

A “real-terms” commitment to protect 16 to 19 FE funding per pupil has been announced by the Liberal Democrats.

The party announced today that over the course of the parliament, it will protect FE per pupil funding “in real terms” at £660 million, and “invest in continuous professional development for teachers” through a £165 million cash commitment.

The party’s shadow education spokesperson Sarah Olney (pitcured) told FE Week: “Students are being left behind as our educational system is cut to the bone.

“This extra £660 million to protect FE will ensure that students are not taken for granted.”

FE Week checked that this was just referring to 16 to 19-year-old learners, and what in that case did that mean for older FE learners.

A spokesperson said: “The figure is for pupils up to the age 19. But we will be setting out other commitments to support adult learners in our manifesto, which will be out in due course.”

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, told FE Week the pledge was “a great first step”, but “if we are to be more self-sufficient in skills, a post-Brexit UK will need increased investment to engage more adults”.

It comes after the Liberal Democrats pledged before the 2015 general election to “protect sixth form and college budgets”.

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association said: “We are pleased that the Liberal Democrats have restated their commitment to protect 16-19 education funding. As sixth form funding is already 21 per cent lower than funding for 11 to 16 year olds, any further cuts would be disastrous for students and the economy. We hope that the Liberal Democrats will also back SFCA’s Support Our Sixth-formers campaign and pledge to boost sixth form funding by £200 per student ahead of a more comprehensive review of funding.    

“We are pleased that the Liberal Democrats have restated their commitment to protect 16-19 education funding. As sixth form funding is already 21% lower than funding for 11 to 16 year olds, any further cuts would be disastrous for students and the economy. We hope that the Liberal Democrats will also back SFCA’s Support Our Sixth-formers campaign and pledge to boost sixth form funding by £200 per student ahead of a more comprehensive review of funding.    

Today’s statement did not refer to apprenticeships, but FE Week asked them if they supported the Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ call, made on May 3, for the next government to commit to 4 million quality apprenticeships over the life of the next parliament.

This would be up from the conservatives’ pledge before the 2015 general election to create 3 million by 2020.

A Liberal Democrats spokesperson said in response: “We welcome this ambitious target to grow the number of high quality apprenticeships in the next parliament, and will be setting out our own plans to for an increase in apprentice numbers when we publish our manifesto.

“In the coalition government, Liberal Democrats championed apprenticeships and were proud that more than2 million apprenticeships started over that time. We believe that high quality apprenticeships are an essential part of building the UK skills base.”

Former business secretary Sir Vince Cable  told Liberal Democrats’ conference delegates three years ago that he was responsible for blocking moves in 2010 to enforce drastic funding cuts for “post-school” training.

We reported last November that Dr Cable, who lost his seat in 2015 but is standing again for parliament this time around, was taking charge of the new project with current NUS vice-president for FE Shakira Martin, who is now president-elect, looking into how major reforms coming for the sector should be tailored for learners.

Labour also announced late last night that it would “scrap fees on courses for adult learners looking to retrain or upskill”.

A spokesperson stated they would “increase the adult skills budget to £1.5 billion by the end of the parliament, in order to abolish upfront fees and increase course funding by an average of 10 per cent year on year”.

Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow education secretary Angela Rayner will outline the proposals, during speeches set to be delivered at Leeds City College from 10am.

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