The highly-anticipated Comprehensive Spending Review has been unveiled, and responses from the FE, Skills and Welfare sectors have been flooding in. In overview, Train to Gain is to be scrapped, EMA’s will be replaced, and funding to help non-English speakers learn the language are to be cut. However, there are going to be 75,000 additional Adult Apprenticeship places (£250 million) and STEM has been boosted with a science and research fund, with Mr Osborne aiming for the UK to be a global leader in science.

FE is to receive an overall cut of 25% or £1.1 billion. The sector does indeed appear to have gotten off lightly when compared with sectors such as Higher Education, which is receiving a 40% cut. The value of FE seems to be finally being recognised - shame it is only recognised in such austere times.

Our reporter Nathan Brown provides an overview of how the CSR will affect the FE, Skills and Welfare sectors here.

So how has the FE sector reacted to George Osborne’s wide-ranging CSR?

Association of Colleges (AoC)

Assistant Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, Julian Gravatt, said:

“While Further Education has not emerged unscathed in the Comprehensive Spending Review, things are not as dire as we had expected. However, Colleges, which have already seen a 14% cut to adult learner responsive budgets this year, are facing further cuts of around 25%. There is no escaping the fact that the next few years will be extremely difficult and there are some real challenges ahead, but Colleges are resilient and will find ways of making the best possible use of the funding available.

“While we will need to wait until the finer details of the spending review emerge over the coming weeks, we welcome the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s comments about skills being seen as a priority for growth and the announcement of funding for extra places for 16 to 19-year-olds. This is particularly important for Colleges – who teach two thirds of young people aged between 16 and 19. But we are concerned about the prospects of students from poorer families following the announcement of the withdrawal of the Educational Maintenance Allowance and would like to see more detail about what is meant by ‘more targeted support’ for these young people.

“The Association of Colleges suggests the Government should protect Education Maintenance Allowances for young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds by tackling inefficiency in small school sixth forms and closing the funding gap between schools and Colleges – this could save them up to £250million.

“Further concerns centre on funding for basic skills in the workplace following the end of the Train to Gain programme and the review of Higher Education (HE) funding will create challenges for Colleges delivering HE courses.”

Association of Learning Providers (ALP)

Graham Hoyle, chief executive of the ALP, responds:

“We welcome the government’s confirmed commitment to apprenticeships as the flagship skills programme that can make the most difference to helping businesses leading us out of recession.

“The end of Train to Gain was not unexpected, but it is important that ministers recognise that some continued investment in other work based adult skills training is necessary to help sustain the recovery.

“Independent providers can deliver much more for less but this requires the government to open up the further education market entirely in the same way that it is for the rest of the education system”.

Mr Hoyle also comments on the Chancellor’s announcement during the CSR of the use of private and third sector providers in the Welfare to Work sector, saying: “ALP is pleased that private and third sector providers have been earmarked to play a major role in helping people back to work.  It is important though that ministers recognise the importance of skills training in enabling individuals to hold on to new jobs and progress within them”.

On EMA and pre-apprenticeship provision, he adds:  “The abolition of the educational maintenance allowance will be a cruel blow to the thousands of disadvantaged young people that our members help every year to find employment via training unless the promised replacement of targeted support is applied to them.  Ministers must recognise that many of these young people come from broken homes with no access to financial support other than what the state provides.  We urge them to think carefully on this issue if they are serious about their recent pronouncements on the importance of vocational learning and social inclusion.

“We are working closely with ministers to develop a coherent package of pre-apprenticeship provision which could transform the career prospects of many young people and today’s announcements recognise that we have a big challenge on our hands that we need to address urgently”.

University and College Union (UCU)

Responding to this afternoon's comprehensive spending review, the union said the full extent of the cuts would become clearer in the next few days, but that it was appalled that education maintenance allowances were at risk and funding to help non-English speakers learn the language will be scrapped.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt, said: “It is hard to see the rationale behind slashing college and university budgets when they generate massive economic growth for the country and when the alternative is more people on the dole and the state losing out on millions in tax revenues.

“We are appalled to learn that education maintenance allowances are at risk and funding for people who do not speak English is being abolished. The simple message here seems to be 'don't be poor'.

“It was interesting that George Osborne chose to start his CSR by saying that he did not wish to saddle our children with debts the government was not willing to pay. He clearly has not read last week's Browne review of university funding.

“It's no good the chancellor describing universities as the jewel in our economic crown and then following those warm words up with massive cuts. Every MP with a college or university in or near their constituency should be clear that the cuts will put those institutions at risk.”

Chris Banks, chairman of the Independent Review of Fees and Co-Funding in Further Education

Mr Banks said: “The comprehensive spending review announced by the Chancellor, George Osborne, today marks a watershed moment for the future of Further Education.

“I greatly welcome the Coalition Government's commitment to promote a fairer distribution of the costs of post-19 education and training between individuals, employers and the state - the central proposition at the heart of my review. In particular, I am delighted he has agreed to the principle of co-investment and the idea that there should be a system of fees and loans for those who participate in Further Education, more like that which is already applied to university study.

“The Treasury’s spending review, presented to Parliament today, says: “The balance of funding will be shifted from the taxpayer towards the individuals and employers who benefit, including the introduction of student loans, and by exploring mechanisms to increase employer contributions such as voluntary training levies. In the real world of finite resources, this makes it more important than ever that that we tackle the issues raised by the enquiry I chaired. The redistribution of the share of the costs for education and training and the introduction of loans were key recommendations of our report following the review.

“Following the Chancellor’s speech today, I call for the Government, colleges and private training providers to take this opportunity to work towards a new more business-like way of working. In particular, colleges and private training providers must assess the real value of the provision they offer in order to set a realistic price. They must put individuals and employers in the driving seat, respond to their need for valuable, high quality, effective training, as customers of the Further Education system.

 “This, I believe is the mechanism by which the Chancellor’s intentions can be made reality. With the principles of our findings now firmly endorsed by the Chancellor, we look forward to working with the Government on taking this forward”.

 

The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE)

NIACE chief executive, Alan Tuckett, said:  “While today’s spending review makes sobering reading, the settlement for adult further education in England suggests that the ministerial team at Business Innovation and Skills has been successful in protecting a significant proportion of the work. From the day of the election, ministers have shown a commitment to a broad range of adult learning opportunities and NIACE is grateful for their efforts during what will have been tough negotiations. We are ready to assist the Department in the challenging work they have ahead of them.”

“Although most individuals and employers will have to pay more, the continuation of the safeguard and statement that, ‘spending on adult community learning will be protected and reformed’, suggests that pressure from learners and providers has had an impact and some of the worst-case scenarios have been avoided.”

Peter Lavender, NIACE’s deputy chief executive, added: “We will be asking BIS whether the government’s continuing support for basic skills provision means no fees will be charged. We will also want to clarify the situation regarding support for English for Speakers of Other Languages and exploring with DWP the place of skills training in the new Work Programme.”

NIACE principal policy officer Alastair Thomson said: “The overall resource savings of 25% across the department are not spread evenly. The 40% reductions in higher education are eye-wateringly tight and risk a shrinkage of opportunities for adult HE. Offsetting this pain though is the welcome news of a substantial expansion in adult apprenticeships.  Similarly, promises to reduce the bureaucratic burden on colleges must be welcomed although the withdrawal of the entitlement to a first full level 2 qualification free of fees for those over 25 will doubtless depress demand.  At a time when the demographic profile of the UK is ageing, rationing opportunities by age will not help adults who need to re-skill in mid career or contribute to civic life in retirement.

“Train to Gain was a flawed programme and many in FE could not understand why public money was paying for training that large employers had previously paid for themselves. Although it won’t be mourned by many, Train to Gain did however allow workers neglected by previous education and training initiatives, to gain their first qualifications. What’s needed will be to try and preserve the good elements of the programme.”

National Union of Students (NUS)

Aaron Porter, NUS president, said: “This is a devastating blow to higher and further education that puts the future of colleges and universities at risk and will have repercussions for the future prospects of students and learners. This is a spending review that looks an entire generation in the eye and says ‘you’re on your own.’

“Government ministers from both parties keep telling us that the deficit must be reduced to avoid passing a poisoned legacy to the next generation, but now they are proposing to eliminate almost all funding for university education whilst simultaneously transferring the debt onto students.

"Ministers who themselves received their university education for free are now saying that the next generation will have to do without.”

NUS and UCU have organised a national demonstration against cuts to further and higher education in central London on Wednesday 10 November 2010.

Gavin O’Meara

 

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