From education to employment

FE responds to SFA budget cuts

The Skills Funding Agency has announced that funding for non-apprenticeship adult further education in England will be decreasing by about 25% in 2015-16.

Below is a selection of opinions from leaders in the FE sector on the news:

David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), said:

“There are one million fewer adults in our classrooms and workshops now than in 2010. That’s the reality for the country of the announcement today of the Adult Skills Budget. That’s one million people without access to an apprenticeship and one million lost opportunities for people who want to work hard to improve their prospects for work and life.”

“It is staggering that there is not more outcry about this drastic and sustained reduction in funding particularly given the clear consensus about the genuine threat that crippling skills gaps and shortages pose for UK economic growth. A whole range of organisations including the CBI, the OECD and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills have pointed to skills as a major constraint on the success of businesses and urged the Government to support hard working people to improve their skills in the workplace. The very real consequences on people’s lives mean that access to training to get new or better qualifications will be much harder and, for many, unaffordable. The figures out today show a 25 per cent cut to the budget for these kinds of courses.”

“We have 5 million people in low pay and we have significant productivity gaps with our competitors. This funding announcement provides no hope for people and employers to use skills training to improve productivity and thus improve pay. The apprenticeship programme will help people entering new jobs, but does little for those already in work. Compounding all of this is the unsuccessful loans programme for people aged over 24 who want intermediate and higher ;level skills. These loans are not being taken up now and the growth set out in the announcement today is unlikely to result in more people actually learning. More needs to be done to stimulate demand to make the loans regime work.

“My fear is that these cuts mean people’s ability to get on in life and work continue to be hampered despite the obvious return on investment to the tax-payer. It’s not fair for people, it’s not right for businesses and it doesn’t support the inclusive growth that politicians say they are seeking.”

Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said:

“This is another major cut in budgets for the employment and skills sector while the funding for Higher Education continues to increase. This is the wrong focus whilst we are trying to give vocational learning the status it deserves.

“The Apprenticeship budget is protected but we need to see growth during the year if we are to meet employer demand. With Traineeships, the volume is growing year on year, so we will need an increase in the budgets to fund that growth. A number of providers are at an early stage of developing their Traineeship programmes and therefore their carry-over will mean that they will require a higher budget for next year.

“AELP is pleased to see that English and maths are now also a priority, but this does mean huge pressure on the rest of the budgets which will inevitably result in some groups of learners not being able to access funding and this could include high priority groups such as the unemployed.”

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said:

“The cuts to funding for adult skills are a further blow to colleges and their current and future students. The Government cannot continue to reduce this provision and at the same time expect adults to have sufficient opportunity to retrain for new or future job opportunities. In the past year alone there have already been major declines in the number of students, primarily aged 19-24, taking courses such as construction, engineering and in the creative arts. For the economy to continue to grow, it is essential that we don’t lose these courses.

“By 2020, if the next Government continue to cut at this rate, adult further education will be effectively a thing of the past. This will mean an end to courses which help people in their early 20s find a job and to GCSE and A Level-equivalent professional courses for those that missed out at school. It will also threaten the future prospects of the millions of people who are likely to need to retrain at least once as they continue to work right through their 60s.
“This situation is now urgent. This could be the end of this essential education in every city, town and community in England and the consequences will be felt by individuals and the economy for years to come.

“An additional major concern is how colleges, after suffering such considerable cuts, can continue to attract and retain the best staff. It is worth noting that the average college has made 105 redundancies since 2009/10 and we fear this figure will grow.

“The Government needs to spend some time comparing how much it provides, via loans, to university students and what it gives to further education students. We would like to see greater equality built into the system through education accounts for all students aged 19 and over through which the Government, individuals and employers can contribute.”

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group college association, said:

“The announcement in today’s skills funding statement of further cuts to the adult skills budget, aside from apprenticeships, is confirmation of what we have anticipated for a long time – that we can no longer expect the government to be the prime funder of such work.

“The 157 Group is working hard to reimagine a sustainable future with colleges acting as anchor institutions within their local communities. We are actively developing new forms of partnership with local enterprise partnerships and employers; new approaches to college governance; and more radical business models. We are also discussing new forms of social investment to sustain the future of high?quality and accessible skills training for all.

“We are working with the government to ascertain where legislative change may be needed in order to achieve this vision and to support the simplification of processes that may currently prevent innovation. We are also supporting the policy focus on guidance and preparation for young people so that they are fully able to take advantage of a growth in the apprenticeship offer via their local college.

“Our goal is to ensure that colleges remain at the heart of a skills system that enables people of all ages to improve their skills and their employability at every stage of their lives.”

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