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Fair funding for colleges is essential

16 November 2015

Fair. It's a small word with a lot of meanings. Fair trade, fair weather, fair play. We most often say fair funding, and that's what the Association of Colleges (AoC) is asking for. The Spending Review is now less than 10 days away. This is our, and your, last chance to highlight what a difference fair funding can make. At the moment education funding for a 16 to 18-year-old is £4,000 per year. This drops to £3,300 when they reach 18. Is this fair when compared with the more than £5,000 that on average schools receive for 11 to 16-year-olds, especially now that the education and training participation age has risen to 18? Being realistic there seems little or no likelihood of the money to educate 16 to 18-year-olds increasing in the near term, but there can no justification at all for it being allowed to decrease any further. I don't have a crystal ball to be able to see what George Osborne will say when he stands at the Despatch Box on 25 November to announce his Spending Review, but it doesn't look good. The reason for this is because 16 to 18 funding is not protected, unlike that of 5 to 16-year-olds. This Government has set out its manifesto pledge to balance the books in this Parliament, so savings have to be made. With so many protected areas (NHS, international development, commitments to Wales and Scotland through the Barnett formula), it means that those departments not protected will have to face bigger cuts. Colleges are not alone in their fears. The police, local government and other public services are also bracing themselves for bad news next week. And so it comes back to my original point. Fairness. AoC has put forward 10 recommendations to the Treasury. We believe that these are sensible options that can help protect and enhance the education and training that colleges provide to their students. It includes having budgets set for three years. Is it fair that colleges are unable to plan for the future because they only have one year budgets, notified less than three months before the start of a new academic year? Even when they do receive their allocations, there's still a risk that these will be cut in-year. The savage 28% cuts to the adult skills budget this year has been a prime example of that maladministration by Government and its agencies. Is it fair to cut the funding for English as a Second Language programmes, despite the Prime Minister’s commitment to migrants in this country needing to speak English. (Both of these announcements were in the space of one week...make of that what you will.) Colleges need and deserve proper funding. They have been, and will continue to be, the lifeblood of this country and at the core of a sustainable economic recovery. Every year three million students are taught at a further education or sixth form college. They provide the academic, professional and technical training that is so essential to help build this country's economy. How can our next generation of engineers be the best in the world without the latest equipment available to them to train with? How can our future builders, IT technicians and chefs learn the skills they need to succeed when colleges are having to make teachers redundant? Fair. A small word which can make a big difference to colleges and their students. George Osborne- take note.