Fund colleges ‘in-year’ to avoid damaging the prospects of growing number of students

06 Aug 2021

The Association of Colleges has warned Treasury to factor in funding for 90,000 extra young people in education by 2024/5 at a cost of £500million. That growth will come from the combined impact of population growth, decreasing apprenticeship starts and a tough labour market but without planned funding increases, places might be hard to find. 

Similar growth in undergraduates will be fully-funded whereas colleges are supposed to take on the financial costs of meeting extra demand a year ahead of being fully funded for them. Today’s report Forecasting 16 to 18 education growth to 2030 argues that this formula risks leaving behind the students with the lowest grades, or those with no GSCEs at all, as the number of students in colleges is set to rise by 200,000 by 2030. 

Demographic shift accounts for some of this increase, but further factors set out in the report show the reduction in the number of young people accessing apprenticeships and steep reductions in job opportunities in sectors like retail will result in a growing demand for college places, squeezing out the most disadvantaged.

Association of Colleges anticipates: 

  • Incremental increases in the 16 to 18-year-old population (approximately 2% per year) until 2028, combined with shrinking apprentice numbers, a tough labour market and the impact of the way GCSEs were graded during the pandemic will all impact on learner numbers. 
  • There will be 90,000 more young people in education by 2024-5 and a further 100,000 in the second half of the 2020s. 
  • The cost of funding additional students in 2024/5 is £500 million. 
  • The one-year lag funding formula will hit the most disadvantaged and lowest attaining students the hardest as numbers of 16 to 18-year-olds in colleges rise

To plan for and combat these challenges, Association of Colleges is calling for:

  • The Department for Education to annually publish student number projections covering 16, 17 and 18-year-olds. Currently, DfE do not collect annual projections of numbers in state-funded education beyond the age of 15 despite the fact the participation age in law is now 18. 
  • A guarantee that extra 16 to 18-year-olds recruited will be fully-funded, to ensure colleges can provide the support needed for everyone, no matter their background or circumstance.
  • HM Treasury to provide a longer-term revenue and capital budget for 16 to 18 education that anticipates demographic trends in the spending review.

    Chief Executive of AoC, the national voice for colleges in England, David Hughes said: 

“The lack of official projection data on student numbers combined with a lagged funding formula will make it increasingly difficult for colleges to cater for every student. The government wants more students to study in colleges but is not providing the funding needed and things will get worse as numbers rise, every year over the next decade.  DfE and the Treasury need to guarantee full-funding for every student recruited, much the same way they do for universities, to ensure colleges are not left out on a limb and young people get the education they deserve.”

You can read the full AoC 16 - 19 projections to 2030 here.