Unions call for more investment in further education

General secretary Dave Prentis signs joint letter to chancellor Philip Hammond ahead of autumn statement

Dave Prentis has joined other education bodies and urged chancellor Philip Hammond to invest in further education when he outlines the new government’s spending plans in his autumn statement next week.

The UNISON general secretary joined sister unions in further education, alongside bodies representing students, colleges and other FE providers, in signing a joint letter to the chancellor, who presents his autumn statement on Wednesday.

The letter points out that the sector has lost more than a million adult learners and around 30,000 staff – split evenly between teaching and other staff – since 2009.

It urges the government to “take a strategic approach to strengthening local further education” by replacing this lost capacity to open up more learning opportunities.

“There’s a hard economic case for expanding further education – every £1 of government investment in further education and skills returns around £20 to the economy,” it says.

The letter is signed by the UCU, ATL, UNISON, GMB and Voice, alongside the National Union of Students, Association of Colleges, the Learning and Work Institute and Unionlearn.

The full text reads:

Dear Chancellor,

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister set out an intention to make Britain a country that helps everyone reach their potential, regardless of background.

Equipping people with the skills they need to thrive must lie at the heart of these efforts, especially as the UK deals with whatever economic changes Brexit will bring. If everyone is to access the learning they require, the government must develop a strong and vibrant further education sector which can cater to different people’s needs and aspirations.

We know that further education transforms lives and that colleges make an invaluable contribution to their local communities, but too many people are missing out on the learning they need. Cuts to public funding have seen courses closed, as well as the loss of over a million adult learners, 15,000 experienced teachers and similar numbers of support staff from the further education sector since 2009.

If we are to build our nation’s skills, we must work to replace this lost capacity and give more learners the opportunity to fulfil their potential. The government needs to take a strategic approach to strengthening local further education, and work to attract talented teachers and support staff to work in our colleges and adult learning providers.

There’s a hard economic case for expanding further education – every £1 of government investment in further education and skills returns around £20 to the economy. So if this month’s Autumn Statement is to match the Prime Minister’s ambition for social mobility and a strong economy, it could include few better investments than further education.

That’s why we, on behalf of further education staff, students and providers, are asking you to rebuild capacity in adult education and skills by opening up more local learning opportunities, funding extra teachers and support staff, and putting investment in the transformative opportunities provided by further education at the heart of your approach.