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Colleges should be “confident, optimistic and ambitious”

14 December 2017

Further education and sixth form colleges should be “confident, optimistic and ambitious” as the country approaches Brexit, according to the new Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), David Hughes. The Brexit vote has cast a light on the shortfalls in workforce skills, especially with the likely slowdown in skilled immigration. This means that more must be done to support people to train and re-train over the duration of their careers. In his opening speech at the AoC Annual Conference and Exhibition in Birmingham, which is attended by college principals and further education experts, Mr Hughes challenged colleges to mean business. He said: “I want colleges to be confident, optimistic and ambitious as they are well placed to upskill Britain’s workforce. They already support 3 million people every year, enhancing life chances, enabling social mobility and improving productivity.” He also reinforced the need for the Government to increase spending on education and training to 5% of GDP in the Autumn Statement later this month. Mr Hughes believes colleges will naturally come into the spotlight as they are central to the Government’s vision for better technical and professional education. He said: “I know that the Secretary of State of Education appreciates the central role colleges have in tackling the skills shortages we expect to see widen as skilled immigration slows down. I hope that she also appreciates the additional investment needed to make this happen across the country. “We must help all 16 to 18 year-olds to get the best start to their lives and careers but that alone is not enough. The Government must also deliver the funding and plans to enable more training opportunities for adults who are already in work.” The further education sector has seen many years of funding cuts, with the funding rate at £4,000 for 16 to 18 year-olds set at 22% lower than that for 11 to 16 year-olds and less than half that of higher education. Adult funding is now more than 40% less than in 2008. Mr Hughes said, “Colleges are the key to a successful economy, especially as we leave the EU. The Government must now invest in our people and in our country’s success by increasing spending on education and training to 5% of GDP. The current 4.5% will not help the Prime Minister deliver a country that works for everyone – more investment is needed for training and education to achieve that.” The AoC Annual Conference and Exhibition is taking place at the ICC in Birmingham from 15-17 November 2016. Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, the Secretary of State for Education is due to speak at the Conference on Thursday, 17 November.