With immigration minister, Robert Jenrick warning of an ‘intolerable pressure’ on our ability to integrate new arrivals, we need to acknowledge the services that drive settled communities and skills for work – and commit a stable and flexible budget to them.
Going to college is more than a transactional encounter where you learn a trade, take an exam and tick a box. Further education provisions support young people and adult learners far beyond the classroom: providing packed enrichment programmes including sport, societies and cultural learning.
They also provide service links to mental health support, financial services and copious amounts of in-house assistance. English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programmes are the epitome of these wrap-around services that colleges deliver.
Colleges support ESOL students – many of whom have made difficult journeys to the UK and arrive as refugees – to understand life in Britain, learn the language and prepare to contribute economically. They work proudly with asylum seekers – having done so since the arrival of the first Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s through to Afghan refugees today – teaching British Values, helping them to access services appropriately and supporting social integration country-wide.
Colleges are busy, in the background, creating skilled migrants who are ready to contribute economically. By doing so, they are supporting assimilation and communities where people live in harmony with each other. Without them, we would see a dystopian landscape of more ghettoised and isolated communities, a strain on mental health services and more social unrest.
We work with incredibly motivated ESOL students and refugees who are prepped at college to progress into work. Many go on to graduate into sectors which benefit from an international talent pool – as well as industries which are, like colleges, struggling to recruit and maintain staff. We have seen qualified accountants retrain as teaching assistants, and other refugees go into all kinds of work including community outreach, law and barbering.
But the bottom line is that funding does not go far enough for adult education. We have reached a point where historic underfunding of the national FE pot needs to be addressed, just as we are seeing a rise in overall demand for services like ESOL in the post-pandemic environment. At Harrogate College, a College of Sanctuary in Yorkshire, we have seen an increase of nearly 100 ESOL students enrolled from last year, with 60 on the waiting list and significantly more in Leeds.
The refugees we work with are incredibly motivated to contribute economically and in many cases are living in real poverty. Many have experienced trauma and left their home country under duress.
As committed sanctuary partners we want to welcome and support them to achieve the better lives they deserve. Let’s commit stable funding to the services that benefit them and our communities at large.