Skip to main content

Colleges want more opportunities for students from the next Government

10 May 2017

This year’s General Election will shape our country for a generation. Interestingly, being a nation self-sufficient in skills has already become a major political issue. Two simple facts provide a stark background for this. The first is that further education students in England receive just 17 hours tuition a week compared to an average of 27 in school and 30 hours or more in most high performing countries. Short-changing our young people doesn’t feel like a good tactic as we strive to raise skills levels to compete on the world stage. Without more investment, our young people cannot get the support they want and need to be confident and ambitious as they enter the labour market. The second fact is that over one million adult education and training places have been lost in the 10 years from 2006 to 2016. This has happened at the same time as many employers have become reliant on recruiting people from the EU (and beyond) rather than training and developing their own workforce. That reliance has to end and more adults need chances to learn new skills to help them get jobs or progress in their work. As a country, we need to remain outward looking and welcoming to people from all backgrounds, but we must do this from a position of strength where we are self-sufficient in skills. Education is not just about the labour market, of course. It is, and always will be, about personal and community growth, development and opportunity. Lifelong learning is a vital driver of a tolerant, fair, democratic and engaged society. This is why colleges are so vital – they are anchor institutions, embedded into local communities, delivering education and training to people of all ages, boosting productivity and strengthening the economy and our communities. But colleges have been starved of cash and investment for too long and they have not been supported as key parts of the social fabric. Their ability to support people, communities and employers has been eroded by years of under-investment and far too much interference and tinkering by successive Governments. Colleges are ready and eager to deliver more in a Brexit-Britain – more support for young people making the transition to adulthood, more opportunities for adults who want to get on and better facilities and training for employers who want to raise their game. The Association of Colleges’ manifesto sets out six recommendations which we believe the next Government can commit to and which will enable colleges to meet student needs. In doing that, employers, communities and the economy will all benefit and we can look forward to a more inclusive period of economic growth. David Hughes is the Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges