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Transport needs to support students

26 May 2017

The Association of College’s (AoC’s) manifesto states that education is, and always will be, about growth, development and opportunity. The next Government must support people to access education and training. In the South West, and in many rural parts of England, one of the big issues is around transport. Students wanting to exercise choice and follow their preferred post-16 option face significant challenges on this. It’s always sobering to meet a student who explains they are prepared to spend a lot of time, in some case up to three hours a day, so they can access the course that will provide them with the qualifications they need. But for many, the availability of transport and cost of fares is a barrier too far. Colleges do what they can, with most South West colleges subsidising student transport with net costs typically around £400,000 a year. One college principal of a specialist land-based college explained that the cost equates to £1000 per student – that’s 25% of their funding used just to enable students get to college. Another sixth form college invests £500,000 a year and a large FE college over £900,000…this can’t go on. Policymakers seem to be not interested in the plight of students in rural areas. Whilst colleges, AoC and MPs have raised this on behalf of students regularly, it is a blind spot in post-16 policy. The introduction of T Levels could be undermined completely if students cannot access routes and work placements. That’s why AoC’s manifesto is recommending to the next Government that there needs to be support for people to access education and training. It must support local authorities to invest in support for transport up to 18, rather than the current pre-16 emphasis in many areas. Whilst London students have free transport and in some areas Scholar passes for the rail network, the incoming Government must address get to grips with the rural student transport issue which at the end of the day is a tax on choice. Affordable and accessible transport for students…is that really too big an ask? Ian Munro is the South West Regional Director of the Association of Colleges