Cuts in FE to ‘hit women and black and ethnic minorities hardest’

Current and planned cuts in further education will hit women and  black and ethnic minorities harder than most according to the Woman’s Leadership Network (WLN) and the Network of Black Professionals (NBP).

The two organisations are so worried about the unfair effect, they have outlined their fears in a letter to the Chancellor, George Osborne. Their concerns were voiced at the organisations’  annual joint conference (as summarised in FE Week) during a debate on how further education leaders and professionals  could lessen the cuts’ effects.

“Women and black and ethnic minority learners are overrepresented in further education, which means they will be disproportionately affected by the overall cut of 25 per cent in adult provision over the next four years,” explained Sally Dicketts, chair of WLN.

The requirement for many learners over the age of 24 to pay their own fees, and for ESOL learners to co-fund their learning, would affect lower-paid women while many women and people from disadvantaged  backgrounds could be put off taking  higher programmes because they don’t like having loans, she said.

Welfare reforms  were another concern since they were more likely to affect those involved in caring who were more likely to be women who could be further restricted from taking part in FE.

For women in the FE teaching workforce, the need for greater flexibility, including more antisocial hours, was likely to make it more difficult for those with caring responsibilities.

Meanwhile Robin Landman, chief executive of NBP said that with 22 per cent of learners in FE, and a high proportion of disadvantaged learners in urban areas from black and minority ethnic backgrounds:  “We are worried that the loss of the education maintenance allowance (EMA) and cuts to 16-19 entitlement funding will lead to a reduction in student support for them.”

He continued: “The rules about unemployed people and those on jobseeker’s allowance being restricted to only eight weeks of study in most cases arelikely to affect a disproportionate number of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, denying them access to more substantial qualifications for progression. And as far as the FE workforce is concerned, we already have serious imbalances, with those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds representing eight per cent of the workforce, and less than five per cent of college principals.”

Cuts in FE employment will reduce the scope to redress the imbalances, he added.

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  1. Following publication of my recent study ‘Further Education Colleges: Recruitment Equality for the 21st Century?’ – see – colleges have reported that they are taking steps to re-consider equality issues.

    Only 4% of colleges in the study referred to the Network for Black Professionals and the only gender reference (1%) was to Athena Swan Women in Science.

    Although the study focused on staff recruitment equality, there are clear implications for student equality. Improving college websites is one way – albeit a small one – in which to lessen the effects of cuts.

  2. Tara Hewitt

    Further example of the government not recognising the
    Impact of their policies and putting in place plans to
    Mitigate them. Yes reform may be needed and difficult
    Decisions made in light of the economic climate but investment
    In education is the key for longer term economic growth.
    The failure of the government to meet the concerns raised here
    Will further add to the burden faced by carers and peope from socialy
    Deprieved backgrounds (of which bme community over represented)
    As a result of welfare and support programs being cut. Is this
    A further exampe of a conservative government making whole scale cuts
    To larger parts of the economy (like in the 1980s and the miners) and failing to
    Dea with the high levels of unemloyment and deprevation that resulted. It was left
    To a abour government to clean up…

  3. The direct effects of proposed cuts to FE funding are exacerbated by other cuts that affect people’s access to learning. WEA students in Yorkshire and Humber did some action research recently with local politicians to see how far they could travel on public transport for £5. In one instance no bus ever turned up so they couldn’t go anywhere.

    Distance learning is only an alternative if people have access to the internet and can afford the equipment and connectivity – and have the necessary skills and confidence to get started.

    Libraries, where people could rely on free access to computers, are under threat. Women (and some men) who are carers also have additional barriers to overcome as cuts are reducing their support mechanisms such as childcare, Surestart centres and day centres for people with disabilities. Indeed, people with disabilities are themselves another group at risk of further exclusion.

    Funding for equality of opportunity and outcomes in FE is vital but so are discussions about joining up planning and policy so that lifelong learning is an available, affordable and integral part of life in all communities.

    Locally based Community Learning Champions and adult students can help to explain the barriers and how to overcome them. They should be involved in advising on policy to make sure that key decisions are not made without reference to practical experience of impact at neighbourhood levels.