College leaders unite – all 203 of them – to demand an end to funding bias towards higher education

Every college leader in England has joined forces and written to the chancellor and the education secretary, demanding the implementation of the recommendations of the Augar Review.

The lobbying effort by 203 principals, representing two million learners annually and 180,000 staff, has been spearheaded by Oldham College principal Alun Francis.

He told FE Week the idea for the letter was conceived at a roundtable three weeks ago, involving principals, policy experts, and Department for Education staff, when one of the panellists for the review, Professor Alison Wolf, pointed out FE leaders had been less active than university vice chancellors in their response to the review; after the HE leaders had written to newspapers and made much more noise than their FE counterparts.

“It was kind of a lightbulb moment I suppose,” Francis said.

The principals went away, decided to write the letter, and took ten days to contact all the colleges, then received that “amazing” response.

On the success of getting every principal on board, Francis said timing was everything, and the review had given people a broader analysis of the whole skills system.

While he admitted that not everyone will agree with the review’s 78 recommendations, he thought the broad gist of the review is what people feel is a “potential breakthrough moment” that has brought people together.

“A whole range of people put their shoulders to help, publicise it, and promote it.

“Too many people to mention; and probably other six or seven people helped drafting it.

“People collaborated really well to be honest.”

The letter to chancellor Philip Hammond and education secretary Damian Hinds states: “In many respects the Augar (pictured) Review represents a wider emerging consensus across England.

“We are sure that you will agree with us and other key stakeholders that further education colleges have been neglected, and that there is now a growing appreciation of their unique role, value and potential.

“What we now need are decisions and commitments: with your political leadership, support and resolve, colleges will be able to build on what they already do to reach more employers and more adults and make the differences our economy and society need.”

The letter won the support of one of the co-authors of the Augar Review, Bev Robinson, who said the government’s response to it was “arguably a watershed moment for the British government”.

“Choosing to enact the recommendations would demonstrate the government’s commitment to the much-needed skills revolution which our country needs, which the industry is crying out for, and which will promote social equity for all adults”.

The review’s recommendations included an end to the 17.5 per cent cut in education funding for 18-year-olds, a £1 billion capital investment injection, and investment in the FE workforce among.

The review was published in May, after it was announced by Prime Minister Theresa May in February of last year.

May made a speech the day after the report was published, where she praised Augar, and said colleges have the “potential to transform lives and grow the economy”, but had been left “overlooked, undervalued and underfunded”.

Hinds has said the review “acknowledges fully the key truth that our further education colleges also play a vital role in performing these functions” and “too often we have had in our country a bias towards higher education”.

However, the government’s initial response to the recommendations was to hand responsibility for inspecting level 6 and 7 apprenticeships to the Office for Students – instead of Ofsted, as proposed by the review.