13 October 2011
Mixed picture for college enrolment – transport and funding cuts fears
Association of Colleges enrolment survey reveals complex changes to education landscape
Embargo: 00.01 Thursday 13 October
A study of further education enrolment patterns reveals major concerns among college leaders for the most vulnerable students in their communities.
Half of colleges reported falling numbers of students aged 16-19; where colleges have reported a drop in numbers for this age group, they believe unaffordable transport, combined with the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and increased competition for student numbers among school and college sixth forms, have been the main causes for a decline.
A complex picture is emerging across England and, while the national average change in 16 to 19 enrolment is -0.1%, the key findings of the Association of Colleges survey, published today (13 October), include:
• Half of the 182 colleges that responded are seeing a drop in 16-19 students, with 46 colleges reporting a significant dip of between 5% to 15 %
• Of those reporting a decline, colleges say that the end of EMAs for students in the first year of the course, competition from other providers, lack of affordable transport and cuts in funding per student were the main factors
• A decline in Level 1 courses (pre-GSCE and basic skills) was reported by 41% of respondents*
• 51% of colleges said that their student numbers have increased or remained stable
• 60% of colleges reported a drop in transport spending by their local authority
• Over half of all colleges are ‘topping up’ Government bursary funding with their own contributions and the same proportion are spending more on subsidising transport this year than last
• 79% of colleges agreeing that free meals in colleges for 16-18 year olds (currently not available, unlike in schools) would encourage participation.
Martin Doel, Chief Executive at the Association of Colleges, said: “AoC conducted some detailed research into enrolment figures this year in order to understand the impact that recent Government initiatives and changes in funding have had on colleges and their students.
“It is a complex picture. Some of the changes may well be due to demographics – there is a drop of 40,000 in the 16-18 age group. The decline in college enrolment by students on Level 1courses may be partially explained by improvements in school teaching. Equally, it may point to a more worrying trend of certain young people disappearing from college and school rolls.
“What is clear is that a significant number of member colleges are concerned that financial constraints are preventing some students from pursuing their preferred courses at their institution of choice, and that there is a risk of vulnerable groups becoming disengaged from education. This appears to be exacerbated by the number of local authorities who have cut back or axed their student travel subsidies.
“There could be longer-term socio-economic implications if the trends suggested by this research are borne out by further studies. If students are not enrolling on their preferred courses at their college of choice but, constrained by the cost of travel, are staying closer to home then they are more likely to be unhappy with their course. It is worth noting that repeated studies have demonstrated that both further education and sixth form colleges deliver significantly better results than small school sixth forms and, as a recent Public Accounts Committee Report** concluded, in more cost effective way.
“For certain student groups, in particular those who have not done so well at school, there is an increased risk that they will drop out of education altogether. With the demise of the Connexions service there will be little colleges can do to encourage them back into education and training.
“The survey has also highlighted the need for more research in this area in order to compile better data on which to base our future conversations with Government about how to mitigate the impact of any unintended consequences of policy and funding changes on our students and their families.”
AoC will undertake future research to further examine enrolment patterns and to examine student retention and will also repeat the detailed enrolment survey in September 2012 to monitor the situation year on year.
* Of a smaller respondent base of 64 Colleges
** http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmpubacc/1116/1116.pdf (Section 2. 11)
Notes to Editors
The enrolment survey, commissioned to collect comprehensive data on student numbers and to examine the possible causes for a fall in the figures, was sent to 347 English AoC member colleges in late September. These Colleges teach, collectively, two thirds of all 16 to 18-year-olds in the country. 182 colleges responded giving a survey response rate of 52%. Replies were fairly evenly spread across all regions. The respondents include general further education colleges, sixth form colleges, and specialist colleges, which include land-based and arts and technology institutions.
Additional AoC research in January 2011 on the abolition of the EMA provides more detail on the college spend on subsidising transport: http://tinyurl.com/6aw9eoo
An AoC survey published last month (September 2011) showed considerable confusion among young people about their post-GCSE options pointing to inadequate careers advice: http://tinyurl.com/5ux9mba
College Case studies - interviews available:
We also have a number of college case studies available for interview in Birmingham, Winchester, Hertfordshire, Middlesbrough and Co. Durham – please contact the AoC press office for their contact details.
• 861,000 16 to 18-year-olds choose to study in colleges (compared with 434,000 in maintained schools, academies and city technology colleges) – that’s 40% of this age group
• Further education success rates in colleges are 81%. The average A-level or equivalent point score for Sixth Form Colleges is 804.8 (compared with 773.4 for maintained school sixth forms)
• 13.3% of 16 to 18-year-olds in colleges are from a disadvantaged background, compared with 8.3% in maintained school sixth forms and academies
• 67% of those receiving the £30 EMA in 2009/10 studied in a college