This election comes at a critical time for further education, writes Ian Pretty. We must press for a commitment to transform the sector that goes well beyond simple funding promises.
There is little doubt that this general election promises to be among the most unpredictable in modern history. We cannot with any degree of certainty predict what the result will be, but it is evident from the pronouncements of the major political parties that significant public sector investment is on the table.
Increased investment across public services is no doubt welcome, but amongst all the commitments and spending pledges, it will be crucial not to overlook further education. There have been positive developments in recent months with the announcement that the Government would increase the 16-18 base rate, but there is little doubt that the further education sector needs a period of significant and sustained investment that goes beyond these welcome, but modest, increases. FE has had to confront many challenges in its recent history, and yet has continued to provide life-changing opportunities to people across the UK.
This general election is a chance to remind politicians and policymakers about the vast contribution that colleges make to the economy, but we believe that there are four critical areas where change is needed, which we will be addressing during this general election campaign. These issues include:
- Ensuring lifelong learning is available to all
- Promoting pathways and progression route for all young people
- Colleges equipped with state-of-the-art facilities
- Widening access to apprenticeships
We will articulate further education’s relevance to a broader set of concerns
What we observe is that the changes needed in the sector do involve financial investment, but there are also a significant number of non-monetary changes that could be just as important. The challenges that are being faced by colleges relate as much to the regulatory environment and the rigidity of some aspects of the current system as they do to the well-documented problems of systemic underfunding.
This is undoubtedly a crucial time for our country, but it is also a critical time for further education. Throughout the general election campaign, we will be expanding on some of the policy changes that we think need to occur to ensure that further education can build and expand on the underpinning role it plays in supporting people across the UK. For colleges to be adequately supported we need to rebalance the apprenticeship system to ensure that apprenticeships are available to all; we need to ensure there are more opportunities for adults to access education and training; and we need to ensure that colleges have the funds to invest in the latest buildings, equipment and facilities.
But in addition to talking about where things need to change, we also want to highlight and celebrate the impact that colleges are having by serving communities. During the campaign, we will publish a document highlighting the fantastic partnerships that colleges have developed with employers and how they are working to raise the aspirations of individuals, as well as supporting employers to get access to the talent and skills that they need. We will also aim to articulate further education’s relevance to a broader set of issues and concerns, such as the underpinning role that colleges play in improving social mobility and how FE powers the workforce of major industries including construction, healthcare and digital.
We hope to use this general election campaign to showcase the great work that is created in colleges and how they can be empowered to facilitate opportunities across all parts of the UK.