Dr Julie Mills, Principal & Chief Executive, Milton Keynes College

The government’s announcement that austerity is over will undoubtedly encourage a clamour of voices from all areas of public service asking for more cash in next month’s Autumn Statement.

This week is Love our Colleges week (as organised by the Association of Colleges), when those of us working in FE try to encourage public and parliament to spare a thought for our contribution.

Who gets what from the Treasury depends as much on public and media pressure as it does on who deserves or needs the greatest support.

There are some areas which always have the most noise made on their behalf; the NHS, the armed forces, fire and ambulance services are always guaranteed a groundswell of backing for their needs.

Local councils, the courts, and yes Further Education colleges, just aren’t always seen as quite so appealing to the public consciousness.

It could be worse of course. How many people would be supportive of improving the pay and conditions of traffic wardens and tax collectors?

The problem is, people often don’t see the value of things until they’re gone. Not many of us give a thought to bin collectors or sewage workers so long as they’re doing what they do. It’s only if they stopped doing it that we would become significantly more interested.

Colleges talk about, “Transforming Lives through Learning,” and that’s exactly what we do. 2.2 million people are trained by colleges each year and we have a wider age and ability range of students than any other sector of the education network, providing high quality technical education, essential basic skills and lifelong learning.

We are of and in our communities to an extent that, universities for example, often are not. Everything we do links people to employers and we make strenuous efforts to listen to the business community to ensure that we are teaching people the things that are really needed in the workplace now.

The curriculum is widely informed by business people who directly influence what is taught which in turn provides a more direct route to employment for learners than perhaps any other form of education. FE is the nation’s best chance to reduce the skills gap and increase productivity.

And yet, in spite of all this there are good arguments to be made that FE overall has suffered more from austerity than any other public service. A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies describes it as, “the sector most squeezed since 2010,” pointing out that spending per student in FE is about 8% lower than in secondary schools and has fallen by about 12% over the past eight years.

Government funded organisations are always clamouring for more cash but the point is, we’re not asking for charity, we’re asking for investment.

A report by the economic modelling experts, Emsi, shows that for every pound invested in Milton Keynes College, society in general gets back almost five times that much.

The annual rate of return is 19% - a bit more than the Chancellor could get by sticking his extra tax receipts in his local building society. Local business benefits from our work to the tune of £265 million per year.

It’s quite simple; put more money in and you’ll get more money out.

We think we have a better argument than most, especially when our work in prisons is also taken into account.

The College provides Offender Learning (OLASS) at prisons and young offender institutions across the south and midlands and any day now we will have helped our six hundredth former prisoner go from jail to a full time job.

So if you’ve ever waved a banner or written to an MP or gone on a sponsored cycle for a fire fighter or a nurse, who not do the same for your local college, at the heart of your community?

Use the hashtag, #LoveOurColleges on social media and sign the petition currently going before parliament asking for more cash.

Petition

Almost eighty years ago, Winston Churchill famously asked our wealthy American cousins during the war to, “Give us the tools and we will finish the job.”

We in FE are saying, “Give us the tools and we’ll make sure British business has the right person for the job.

Dr Julie Mills, Principal & Chief Executive, Milton Keynes College

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