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Fair funding for colleges

20 January 2017

It will be Budget time in Westminster in just under seven weeks, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, has already signalled that it will be a dull one. This is because he wants to focus on the Autumn Budget and because he’s part of a Government whose work is currently dominated by Brexit, Trump and other external issues. This, plus a desire to keep a lid on public spending, means there isn’t much of an audience for spending proposals. Despite this, the Association of College’s Budget submission makes a few suggestions. Our full document explains some of the things that will be necessary to secure the world class technical education system that Education Secretary, Justine Greening, would like to see. Investments in staff and equipment are a precondition for the plans outlined in the Sainsbury Review which are due to start in 2020. Improving post-16 education also requires the Department for Education to rethink its approach to funding. We ask for fair funding for college students by, for example, continuing the pupil premium up to the age of 18. In the case of apprenticeships, major reforms started two years ago and come into effect this year. The levy and Digital Apprenticeship System both go live around Easter. It would be stupid for anyone to make last minute changes now, but we have a concern about reductions in training volumes. The Government is handing spending power to 20,000 employers and they may understandably prefer to save their funds until they have enough to make a difference. Our suggestion here is that spending is protected while the system beds down. Finally on Brexit we argue for an English Social Fund to tackle the same issues as the current EU funds, but in a different way. The Government’s forthcoming industrial strategy, mentioned in two high profile speeches by the Prime Minister, Theresa May, this week, will identify challenges in a range of areas including skills. In the coming years, the main responsibility for this will sit with employers and individuals. The apprenticeship levy and student loans (perhaps converted into learning accounts) are a way to sugar this pill. But in the short term, Government action and spending will be needed. We share the ambition to make the system better; our proposals sets out some practical ways in which this could be done. In short – we want fair funding for colleges. Julian Gravatt is the Assistant Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges.