Association of Colleges gives cautious welcome to chancellor's FE funding boost

“Meaningful” but not enough to stabilise FE for the future: that is the Association of Colleges’ response to chancellor Sajid Javid’s announcement of £400 million extra investment for colleges this morning.

The association’s chief executive David Hughes said he was “delighted” the government had started to listen to college leaders, MPs, businesses, students and stakeholders.

But, he added: “It’s not enough to reverse the decade of cuts, nor to properly stabilise the sector for the future, but it is a good start.

“Colleges have been overlooked and underfunded for far too long. Today’s announcement of an additional £400 million marks the first meaningful investment in further education for 16-to-19-year-olds for more than ten years. 

“The announcement today will start to invest more in our young people with a long overdue increase in the base funding rate for 16 and 17-year-olds. 

“This will help support the world-class education and training which colleges provide to help our young people to succeed.

“We believe that an announcement about funding to cover higher Teacher’s Pension Scheme costs will come separately and look forward to seeing the detail of that. 

“Recent changes to pensions means colleges are locked into schemes which take a rising share of their budgets with no additional support in funding currently.”

It was announced last year that the amount colleges and other public-funded FE training providers must contribute to staff pensions was set to rise from the current rate of 16.48 per cent to 23.6 per cent – an extra £142 million a year – from September 2019.

However, the DfE announced in April it would cover the cost of the increase – but not how long it would cover it for.

Hughes continued: “Both the chancellor and the prime minister have spoken regularly about the importance of our colleges, and the need to properly invest in them and today they have started to honour that commitment. 

“However adult education was notably absent, with the number of adults in further education almost halving in the last decade, funding is urgently needed to boost opportunities to retrain and tackle skills shortages.

“I am optimistic more investment will follow next year when the spending review will be able to set out a longer term settlement to support thriving and vibrant colleges for the long term. 

“We will continue to work with government, and campaign with partners to make sure that colleges continue to be a serious political, economic and social priority. 

“That means long-term, sustainable funding, and a robust lifelong learning system.

“Schools received a three-year commitment that allows them the chance to plan and deliver – we’ll be pushing government to do the same for colleges in next year’s spending review.”

The chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, Bill Watkin, called the announcement “good news”, as “sixth form education has been starved of resources over the past decade and today’s announcement provides a much needed boost to the 1.1 million 16 to 18 year-olds in colleges and schools across England.

“Around half of this investment will be used to Raise the Rate – the government has obviously listened to the coalition of organisations and MPs behind the campaign to increase the base rate for sixth formers – and we regard this as a step in the right direction.

“We need to see more detail on all of today’s announcements, but it is clear that this is the first meaningful investment in mainstream sixth form education for a decade”.

The UCU has also welcomed the increase, after what general secretary Jo Grady called “tireless campaigning by trade unions and the further education sector”; the union said colleges’ first priority for the money should be to close the £7,000 pay gap between school and college teachers.

Not everyone is on board with the chancellor’s announcement though: Lawrence Barton, managing director of independent training provider GB Training said: “FE funding in England and Wales is so skewed in colleges favour — to the detriment of independent providers — that they’ve been overcome by complacency. 

“Only by encouraging effective competition and weaning colleges off guaranteed funding grants will the government get a handle on the financial mismanagement plaguing our country’s colleges and driving up teaching standards.”