Fair funding for colleges

By David Hughes on

Colleges change lives. Colleges underpin labour markets and support business success. Colleges are at the heart of tolerant and inclusive communities. They do all of this through educating and training around 3 million people every year; people who are vital to  the workforce of today and the future, people who are vital to a functioning society.

And yet college funding has been cut harder than any other part of the education system over the past decade; that’s why we’re calling on the Government to provide fair funding for colleges.

It’s a simple idea, based on firm evidence of the startling under-funding of post 16 education. The Government itself has recognised this in the recent Industrial Strategy in which it says: We need to ask more of post-16 education and training to ensure that everyone has the chance to develop the skills crucial to their future and the economy (page 44).

I couldn't agree more, and colleges are eager to deliver more. But there is no point the Government asking for more if it is not prepared to fund it properly. The unfair funding is laid bare by the next paragraph of that Strategy which shows that the funding cuts have resulted in a drop from 28 hours of tuition per week in schools pre-16 to only 17 hours in post-16 education.

The Industrial Strategy also contrasts our 17 hours with 30 hours in Shanghai and 28 hours in Norway. Fair funding would allow our young people to get the support, facilities and start in life that they deserve and that our economy and country needs. With our exit from the EU on the horizon, those international comparisons will become even more important.

The 2015 Spending Review signalled a welcome end to many years of severe cash cuts to post 16 education, but still left the sector facing diminishing resources once inflation is factored in. That’s simply not good enough if we want to face up to a more competitive global market. Our young people and adults need the technical and professional learning opportunities that fair funding for colleges can deliver.

The Prime Minister has spoken eloquently and convincingly about her commitment to a country that works for everyone. I don’t think she can achieve that without fair funding for colleges because colleges are the engine rooms of social mobility and lifelong learning, the places where millions of people find the support they need to compete for jobs, for promotion and where employers find support for business success.

A skilled workforce, with opportunities throughout life for learning will be the backbone of this country’s future economic success. Colleges are key to making this a reality. Fair funding is not much to ask for, is it?

David Hughes is the Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges.