Skip to main content

Decades of cuts cannot continue

22 September 2017

Colleges are transformational – they help people make the most of their talents and ambitions and drive social mobility; they help businesses improve productivity and drive economic growth; they are rooted in and committed to their communities and drive tolerance and well-being. They are an essential part of England’s education system. Despite these enormous contributions, public investment in colleges has been hit harder than any other part of the education system in the last decade. Between 2009 and 2015 colleges dealt with a 27% real terms cut in funding. The impact of this has been a drastic drop in learning opportunities for adults, fewer hours of teaching and support for young people, teacher pay in colleges lagging behind schools and college financial viability under great stress. As always, colleges have faced up to these challenges and continued to provide high-quality education and training to 2.2 million people. The sad fact is that there are many more people who would benefit from what colleges offer, but the funding falls short. After a decade of cuts it is clear that there are severe skills challenges which require greater investment. The decision to leave the European Union (EU) casts a sharper light on these challenges – social mobility, productivity, skills shortages, regional economic growth all require more college investment. For a long time, the UK economy has relied on large numbers of skilled and semi-skilled people from the EU and beyond. There are already signs that migration is falling, skills shortages are increasing and productivity is still stagnant. The UK needs to remain outward-looking and will inevitably continue to have significant levels of immigration and emigration but a sensible long term objective is for the UK to be self-sufficient in skills. In order to achieve this, the Government will need to spend more on 16 to 18-year-olds to give them the start in life they deserve and to match the academic and technical training of our OECD competitors. The Department for Education (DfE) also needs to build a system for adults that encourages lifelong learning and tackles basic skills. DfE should also ensure money is used efficiently, to tackle the waste that arises in small sixth forms and to review its approach to GCSE resits. The strong emphasis on skills in the Industrial Strategy now needs investment so that colleges can deliver and there needs to be some refinements of policy towards apprenticeships and higher education. On 22 November, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be announcing his Autumn Budget. The Association of Colleges has provided 15 recommendations which will support the national goals of sustaining inclusive economic growth and developing a fair and effective education system. Colleges are ready and willing to step up to meet the challenges our country faces; our proposals will help them do that for the benefit of young people and adults, employers and communities. David Hughes is the Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges