As the Further Education sector continues to come to terms with the announcement from the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) that they intend to cut 1,300 jobs across the country, different participants in FE have been making their views heard.
Gavin O"Meara is the Managing Director of Further Education Recruitment specialists, Chimeara Ltd., and spoke to FE News of his concerns for the future of the sector.
A Positive Spin?
He raised the issue of who will actually benefit from the cutbacks in the medium term. "Haysom [Mark Haysom, Chief Executive of the LSC] has given a positive spin to the 1,300 job cuts, by justifying the cuts to save £40M for the good of the learners," he said. "But will these 1,300 job cuts actually help any learners? And will these cuts actually save any money in the long run? It would be interesting to calculate how much will be spent on outsourced services to replace these 1,300 job losses."
He also drew attention to the dissipation in the provision of choice to the learner that cuts could entail, saying: "These job cuts come at an interesting time. We have noticed a strategy by the local LSC's where they have drastically reduced the number of learning providers that they have allocated funding to. This strategy is very alarming as this has drastically affected the learners choice and specialisation. In some LSC regions this strategy has reduced the choice of learning providers drastically." (For an instance of this, please see the article conducted with Steve Palmer, Executive Director of the LSC Lancashire, where he refers to the pruning of Work based Learning Providers from 45 down to 25. This article can be viewed here.)
A Game of Monopoly Without Passing Go
He also points out the danger that a reduced number of training providers spells. "This strategy is causing a monopolisation of learning providers, reducing choice and the prospect of any niche specialisation for learners," he said. "Good news for colleges and large nationwide training providers, bad news for small and niche training providers, and our learners who are seeking very specialist skills, especially from a niche learning provider within their industry of choice."
At a time when the Sandy Leitch Review is seeking to establish the skills that the British workforce will require in 2020, Mr. O"Meara sees this as "a dark period for Further Education". He continued: "If we do not provide the choice of specialist skills to our learners "“ then this will greatly affect the British economy in 5, 10 or 20 years time." Breaking down the actual saving across the forty "“ seven local LSC centres, he noted that the saving is "a mere £851,000" in each case. He asks: "Is the potential loss of another generation of specialist skills and the subsequent loss to the UK economy really worth it for just £851,000?"
He stressed the need to provide the best possible range of choices to the learners of today and of tomorrow, in the face of ever greater competition from the growing economies in the global market which was mentioned by Chancellor Gordon Brown in his speech to the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in Brighton only six days ago. "We are already struggling to produce and develop a skilled workforce compete with emerging economies in China and India, let alone our G8 competitors," he said. "Unless we provide and promote the prospect of specialist skills and education, the writing is on the wall for the UK to be left behind for not just years, but generations."
So, how much are the future generations of Britian worth? Tell us how it all adds up in the FE Blog"