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Let’s have fairness

21st January 2015

If there’s one message I could give to the next Government it would be this – let’s have fairness. This academic year has seen the introduction of the raised participation age, meaning that young people now have to stay in training or education until the age of 18. This is something that we at AoC agree with wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with, however, is that transport policies haven’t caught up. Under-16s benefit from free travel to school, but there’s no system to support those aged 16 to 18. Instead, it is at the discretion of the increasingly squeezed budgets of local authorities to provide support where they can. To me, this is unfair. As a country, we have a duty to support our young people to achieve their ambitions. But apparently this is only when the place of learning is on their doorstep. According to the Campaign for Better Transport, studies have shown that one in five students have considered dropping out of college because of the financial cost, with transport being the biggest contributor to this. My own college, Exeter, has to subsidise such students’ bus and train fares to travel to us using money intended for teaching and learning, so that they can train to work in sectors such as construction, engineering, hospitality or IT. In London the Mayor has put in place a free transport scheme for 16 to 18-year-olds in education, meaning that in the country's biggest city young people can fairly access learning, but not in other rural and urban areas. We know that local authority budgets are tight. But we need to make sure our young people are started on a strong career path, putting them in the right place to achieve their aims. It’s not fair that once again college students who choose vocational courses are disadvantaged compared with schools pupils, and the next Government must address this inequality. That’s why we are calling for transport rights for 16 to 18-year-olds to mirror those of school children. Over the next few months, colleges and students up and down the country will be raising this with Members of Parliament and candidates in the General Election with this simple message: choosing a course which interests and engages young people is the best way to make sure they stay in education and training and emerge ready to take on the working world. This has not only a positive impact on them as individuals, but the country’s economy as a whole. Affordable and accessible transport for students…is that really too big an ask?