From education to employment

Sector Unites Behind Petition Delivered to Number 10 Amid Adult Education Fears

The delivery of the petition to Downing Street this week has not marked the end of the fight for fairer funding in the FE College sector, as more voices add their decibels to the call.

These include NATFHE, the largest union for further education college lecturers, who fully support the call for fair funding. Their proposed merger with the Association of University Teachers (AUT), if approved by the membership, will see them become an enormous organisation with over a hundred thousand members on current figures that would represent an even greater force to be reckoned with in defending the rights of educators and students in colleges.

The Petition is Delivered

The petition, which arrived on the doorstep of the Prime Minister this Tuesday, was led by the Association of Colleges (AoC). They are using this opportunity to highlight the problems with current college funding arrangements, which mean that some 700,000 16-19-year-old college students receive an average of £400 less funding a year each than their school counterparts, and that up to 700,000 adult learning places will be cut by 2008.

The concerns over adult education places in colleges have been particularly strong this year, as the 2004 / 2005 funding letter from the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) which saw an actual terms cut in provision for post 19 education. With fears growing that this will only get more severe in coming years” announcements, this is an issue that is sure to be bitterly contested between those who work on the front line and those who determine the distribution of resources.

At September’s Trades Unions Congress (TUC) Annual Congress in Brighton, it emerged that some adult learners were being turned away from colleges, who were forced to take this action to meet admission quotas for 16 ““ 18 year old students. It could be that this represents the beginning of the decline in adult education provision, with some presenting the argument that the Government cannot afford to fully fund post 19 education.

When the Going Gets Tough”¦

That may well prove to be the case; after all the economy is now as strong as it is likely to be, and as such it is unlikely that the Education and Skills sector can realistically expect to get a greater share of the budget than they do at present. Whenever it may be ““ and the entire country undoubtedly hopes it will be a long time yet ““ the cyclical nature of international finance and industry almost guarantee that Britain will go through a period of lower productivity at some stage.

The Government are focusing a great deal of energy on Basic Skills training and reforming the education system up to the age of 18. Yet, with the suggestion from the Investors in People (IIP) report recently that an 18 year old today will need to re ““ train at least five times during his or her working life, the attention on pre ““ 18 education may be short – sighted in the extreme. It is true that employers must be encouraged to support skills training for extant employees, but to actually cut adult provision may prove a shot in the foot in the years to come.

It remains to be seen whether or not this petition will take the bullet out of the chamber, or whether we run the risk of leaving our economy and workforce with a severe limp.

Jethro Marsh

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