Students and lecturers from across the country will be in Parliament today lobbying MPs and Ministers for an end to the funding gap between colleges and school sixth-forms. They will be joined by a variety of supporters, ranging from employers and education experts to the TUC, the Association of Learning Providers and even the charity Help the Aged.
Colleges currently receive at least 10% less funding per student than schools providing the same courses, amounting to an estimated £500,000 per college each year. Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON, said: “How can the Government hope to deliver their strategies on 14 ““ 19 year olds and on vocational education without fair funding for the FE sector? There needs to be substantial investment in the infrastructure and resources and not least to ensure decent pay levels for all staff including lecturers, support and other professional staff.”
Although today’s Parliamentary protest may be the first publicity success for the campaign, the Association of Colleges (AoC) has been leading it since early February. AoC Chief Executive John Brennan has publicly attacked Ministers for their lack of action on the problem and for constraining the Learning and Skills Council’s ability to achieve funding parity. His concerns stem largely from the fact that between 15-20% of colleges in England and Wales have been placed in the Learning and Skills Council’s “financially weak” category C. Moreover, with over twice as many 16-18 year olds studying in colleges than school sixth forms it seems the government does indeed have a case to answer.
It is not just teenage students who are suffering from the current funding rules however. It is feared that a government policy to move money away from colleges in 2006 will lead to an unavoidable hike in adult learning costs. “Current Government funding plans for adult learning would lead to fee rises above inflation, course cuts, fewer concessions for older learners and less support for associated costs such as childcare and transport,” commented Brennan. David Sinclair, Help the Aged Social Inclusion Policy Manager, has also spoken out against the current funding system. “It is crucial that a lack of funding does not put the future of opportunities at risk for older adults. Government must heed the call of the Association of Colleges and ensure that we dont see major cuts in the number of courses or an increase in costs for participants.”
Also weighing in on the controversy are the Association of Learning Providers. “Work based learning providers are sympathetic towards the colleges case for funding parity with sixth forms. Our concern is that funding is not meeting the demands of young people for apprenticeships and the pre-apprenticeship programme, Entry to Employment, and urgent action needs to be taken to address this,” commented Graham Hoyle, the association’s Chief Executive.
As the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) warns of a possible imminent lecturer strike, it is clear that the government is under more pressure than ever to implement reforms. Today’s Parliamentary lobby could provide just the breakthrough that the AoC needs to finally make headway in its call for fairer funding for colleges.
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