Proper Funding for Further Education – Skills, Pay and Free Education

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2018 Local Government Service Group Conference
21 February 2018

Conference notes with concern that the funding crisis in post-16 education continues. This means further cuts to courses, rising class sizes and, potentially, college closures unless urgent action is taken.

Colleges are at the forefront of delivering technical and professional education and training. Therefore, fair funding for colleges is essential for every community and for employers who rely on skilled employees to be successful. Cuts to FE have a disproportionate effect on the education of the most economically or educationally disadvantaged. Funding cuts mean less individual support is available to students including careers advice, mental health and special needs support.

Spending in England on further education and sixth forms fell by 14% in real terms under the coalition government and rising costs are putting huge additional pressure on stretched budgets. Government cuts to the adult education budget since 2010 have resulted in real-term cuts of more than 40%.

With young people now required to participate in education or training until the age of 18, the 21% per pupil drop in funding at the age of 16 is damaging the educational and employment prospects of young people across England. Chronic under-funding is bad for students, social mobility and the economy.

The decision to leave the European Union requires an urgent focus on supporting both young people and adults to meet the future skills needs our economy. In the UK, colleges support over 2 million people to improve their skills, to help them get into work and earn more. Fair funding for young people and adult learners would result in more people getting technical and professional training to help build a highly skilled workforce, boost productivity and improve social mobility.

Conference is concerned to note the decrease in the number of apprentices in England and the effect that this will have on skills training as well as on college income and jobs within colleges.

Substantial and sustained increased funding in colleges would allow them to address the shocking erosion of staff pay, terms and condition. By 2017 staff pay in England had fallen in real terms by 21.5% since 2009. For the many thousands of college staff whose employers have not implemented national pay recommendations, pay has fallen by more than 25%. UNISON notes that the Association of Colleges statement that they wish to see a well rewarded workforce, but that current funding levels mean that many colleges are not in a position to increase salaries.

Conference notes that in 2017 UNISON Scotland was a full participant, working closely with NUS Scotland, in the independent Ghadia Review of Student Finance, ministerial announcements on this are expected in Spring 2018. This is likely to lead to an increase in the value of bursaries in FE and HE, with a mixture of loans and bursaries, rather than full bursaries. The student loan scheme is, and will continue to be, different in Scotland with better terms than elsewhere in the UK.

Conference welcomes the Labour Party’s commitment to a National Education Service (NES) that would make education free at the point of use, for all those who need it at any stage of their lives; making lifelong learning for all a reality.

Conference welcomes the Labour Party’s manifesto commitment to abolish student tuition fees in England, restore maintenance grants in England and invest in further education there. UNISON supports the Welsh government and Northern Ireland Assembly’s continued support of the education maintenance allowance (EMA) to enable fair access.

UNISON agrees with the Association of College’s statement that “This is not just a funding issue, it is a moral issue and should deeply concern every one of us. Young people deserve the right investment to support their ambitions and abilities.”

Conference therefore calls on the local government service group executive to work with the further education sector committee to:

1)Work alongside other unions, employers, the NUS and other supportive organisations to run a joint funding campaign calling for greater investment in colleges;

2) Brief MPs on the crisis in FE funding and invite MPs into colleges so that they can see the value that colleges bring to local students and the economy;

3) Campaign for the abolition of student tuition fees in further education wherever they exist;

4) Campaign for the restoration of the English Educational Maintenance Allowance for FE students;

5) Continue to campaign for full bursaries for FE students in Scotland;

6) Campaign to protect local, fully staffed finance, advice and pastoral services to students;

7) Campaign for improved funding and investment in FE colleges thereby enabling all staff to receive pay increases that not only keeps up with inflation but catches up with many years of real terms cuts.;

8) Campaign for investment in adult and community and prison education throughout the UK to guarantee meaningful lifelong learning opportunities;

9) Work with Labour Link to promote the NES to ensure that education is free when needed, throughout life.