For thousands of learners in East Yorkshire and nearby counties who have benefited from the wonderful educational experiences provided by excellent local Further Education (FE) Colleges, it might come as a surprise to learn that the FE sector is now in a state of “financial crisis”.
This worrying statement was confirmed in a recent Parliamentary debate, prompted by a student-led petition which attracted 70,000 signatures.
MPs who attended unanimously agreed that something has to be done by this Government to raise the base rate of learner funding in colleges.
The reason for this is that for the past 10 years the rate of funding per student has been frozen, resulting in a cut in real terms of 30% over that period.
In addition Adult and Community Education has almost disappeared, thereby depriving local communities of much needed and vitally important opportunities to access high quality education and training courses.
At a time when the country needs highly skilled young people and adults this short-sighted approach by successive Conservative Governments has resulted in:
○ Cuts to teaching and vital learning support hours for young people
○ A drastic reduction in the number of courses for adults
○ The value of staff pay falling by over 25% since 2009
○ A significant pay differential between college teachers and school teachers (£7,000)
Following this debate, pressure needs to be maintained on the Government to end this totally unjustified freeze on FE finances.
The silence from local Tory MPs is disturbing to say the least.
The attention being placed on Brexit matters is no excuse.
The Labour Party is pushing for an immediate national review, not just of the acute funding shortage, but on how to further develop and sustain the vital role FE Colleges will play in meeting the needs of local learners and employers in the future.
The evidence also suggests there are particular additional funding pressures for FE colleges in rural areas like ours, where students need financial support with travel costs to college and to high quality work placements, which are spread over a wider area.
These are vitally important concerns that need addressing as a matter of urgency to prevent further discrimination against current and future learners in rural areas.
Young people and adults wishing to update their knowledge and skills have a right to continue to expect a first class further education service that will give them access to the local and national job market.
Employers are constantly demanding new work-based skills to keep pace with developments in their industries; therefore equipment and staffing resources must be sustained.
If excellent local colleges like East Riding College and Bishop Burton College are to continue to respond to those demands, adequate funds must be made available now.
The alternative is to see even further cuts to courses and associated staffing reductions in order to balance the books.
Our students and local communities deserve better.