In a show of political unity, 165 cross-party MPs from four political parties, led by the Conservative's Richard Graham MP and Labour's MP Nic Dakin MP, have co-signed a letter calling on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to increase funding for colleges in the next Comprehensive Spending Review.
Colleges across England educate and train 2.2 million people every year and the cross-party MPs believe their role is vital in improving the country’s productivity and reducing the nation’s growing skills gap.
A recent survey showed that 6 in 10 SMEs say that finding employees with the right skills is their biggest concern – with 58% believing that the UK will get left behind if government doesn’t address the issue. These businesses said that colleges are best placed to skill the future workforce that they need.
However, colleges have seen a 30% reduction in their funding over the last decade and is the only part of the education system to face year on year cuts since 2010. This has resulted in a drastic drop in learning opportunities for adults; fewer hours teaching time; a lower rate of pay for teachers in colleges compared with schools; and in increased difficulty to recruit and retain staff.
There is increasing recognition in Parliament of the role that colleges play, including a recent Westminster Hall Debate with 65 MPs from all major parties taking part – instigated by a student-written petition which received over 70,000 signatures, and questions at PMQs.
"...colleges have been dealt an average funding cut of 30% over the last ten years. The Chancellor’s departmental spending review is a chance to announce an above inflation increase which would boost skills, productivity and social mobility."
Nic Dakin, Labour MP said:
"From my years as a college principal,
I know how important this issue is. Our colleges are the engines of social mobility, transforming the prospects of our young people and delivering the skills our local businesses want. It is vital that the Government invests in our colleges."
David Hughes, Chief Executive of Association of Colleges, said:
"165 MPs, from all of the major parties, have shown how important and urgent it is for the Chancellor to increase funding to colleges. There is now very strong cross-Party support for the 2.2 million people who study and train in colleges each year and for the teachers who support them. Regardless of the form that Brexit takes, we have a skills gap in England that will only get worse – if government is serious about fixing it, it is
vital that colleges are supported to deliver the education and skills our country needs.”