Yet again parliament is discussing the future of the Further Education Sector. During this period of austerity the topic is very much alive as the government tackles or should that be attacks public sector spending. FE has always been an easy target, little understood or given the recognition it deserves. Massive cuts are being introduced across college budgets e.g. 24%+ at Liverpool College and as a result staff are being made redundant and more are employed on fixed term or zero hour contracts. A recent report highlighted the massive reserves that universities have compared with the paucity of funds that the colleges have pointing out that 25% of colleges will be bankrupt with the next year! This is bad enough but a number of politicians are suggesting that the sector is increasingly irrelevant arguing that the other sectors of education and the private sector can make the provision. The appearance of academies, specialist schools, free schools and the like and the raising of the school leaving age to 18 does not help the case for colleges. Also the number of colleges in the country continues to decline rapidly. Many politicians seem to imagine the provision can be developed and delivered in these other institutions, again reflecting their ignorance of technical and vocational education.
Sadly it reflects the fact that technical education and training and its providers have been treated as second best for many decades. Since the Great Exhibition technical education has witnessed many false dawns, been bombarded with volumes of empty rhetoric with little long term improvement, and this situation continues today. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and establishing an effective revitalised manufacturing base it must fully recognise the key role the sector must play in this endeavour. The government should recognise that colleges and other training providers must be significantly involved in the development of high quality apprenticeship programmes with employers and major programmes in technical and vocational education and training.
Actions that must be taken:
- College staff must lobby their professional organisations and employers they work with to make it clear to politicians of all persuasions that the sector is essential in creating the highly qualified workforce of the future and play a major part in improving the current low skills levels so prevalent in this country.
- A fundamental review and reform of education and training in this country to be carried out to once and for all establish an effective FE sector that is recognised, secure, and well-resourced and given equal status with schools and universities.
- College staff, particularly Senior and members of the Governors to lobby local MPs and get them to visit the colleges regularly to see their work.
- Colleges to work together with the organisations that represent the sector again to constantly lobby all the appropriate parties.
- Get former students to champion the advantages and merits of colleges and their qualifications
- Get rid of the differential funding regimes between young and older students and those pursuing different modes of attendance/delivery.
- Treat all the sectors fairly particularly in their resources. The average funding for FE students is £2,000 as opposed to £9,000 for university students.
- Tackle the massive surpluses that universities hold and transfer some of the money to colleges.
The message to all interested parties is to tap all possible networks in order to broadcast the importance of the sector and its work or it will be consigned to history.