Cuts to Further Education

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2014 Local Government Service Group Conference
1 January 2014

The school system enjoys some measure of protection because of its compulsory nature and political interests. Over £1 billion has been spent on the establishment of academies, with little proven worth and sparse support outside of a doctrinaire cabal. Universities enjoy the respect generated by their hallowed halls and political alumni. Colleges have twice as many students ranging across the age spectrum from 14 years old and often pick up the pieces for young people who were failed by their schools and adults who have been failed by life. Sometimes called the place for a second educational chance, it is often the place for a first opportunity to gain qualifications and skills. Further education (FE) should be the last port of call for public expenditure cuts, but is often the first, given the lack of political awareness or willingness to appreciate its vital role in communities.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), education spending experienced relatively robust growth during the 2000s. By the end of the decade, education spending as a share of national income stood close to its highest level for at least fifty years. FE was one of the main beneficiaries with a 7.7% funding increase per year, but now colleges across the UK are facing disproportionately high cuts. By 2015, almost all of this growth will be reversed. IFS says of education funding that, “having grown historically quickly during the 2000s, it is now set to fall historically fast during the early 2010s”. Government teeth get two bites of the FE cherry: education and training for adults and for 16 to 18 year olds, funded through two agencies in England and devolved bodies in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Both young people and adult skills budgets in England will have been cut by 25% by 2015-16, and for adults by over 35% in Wales. Scotland’s colleges are facing substantial FE budget cuts of 13.5% over the next three years: a £70 million cut.

Conference condemns the cuts to funding for Further Education. Conference believes that these cuts impact disproportionately on the disadvantaged, including young people who are faced with mass youth unemployment. Cuts to the least advantaged sector in education impact on the most disadvantaged members of its workforce and student community. For young workers wanting to take up employment in Further Education, the job opportunities are fewer, and the prospects for career progression with decent training are diminishing rapidly.

Those already working in Further Education suffer redundancy, lower pay, and worsening terms and conditions. There is also the impact of cuts on training provision for those workers. Not only are opportunities to acquire vital job skills being reduced, but jobs themselves are being lost in the sector. Redundancies, depreciation of the value of pay by about 10%, casualisation and zero-hour contracts affect women, young people, ethnic minorities and disabled staff disproportionately. Course or college closures, withdrawal of free education and the financial support of the EMA, can only penalise those with the least social bargaining power.

There is also great concern that a demographic “time-bomb” is emerging in the sector – for example amongst technicians – with an ageing workforce retiring with too few properly-qualified younger workers to adequately fill vacancies and provide services. Conference agrees that sustainable workforce planning is essential, and that the employment and development of young workers is an important part of creating that sustainability.

This conference commits itself to the defence of FE, its workers and the communities that they serve.

Conference calls on the Service Group Executive to:

1) Continue its work to prioritise recruitment and organising in the FE sector

2) Work to defend services and jobs, pay and conditions

3) Call on the employers to monitor the impact of the cuts on:

a) The age profile of the workforce

b) Budgets for training and development and to make the monitoring data publicly available

4) Assess the impact of FE funding cuts on those with protected characteristics both in the workforce and in the community

5) Lobby political parties in all UK countries on the need to restore funding to FE

6) Call on branches to work with other unions, students and community groups to defend and promote FE

7) Monitor the fight against redundancies and defence of pay and conditions of FE staff by branches

8) Publish the results and promote a campaign based on their findings.