From education to employment

Call for £400 million emergency funding for colleges

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Senior Conservative backbenchers urged the Chancellor to use the spring statement to invest in colleges.

Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Education Select Committee chair Robin Walker and former environment secretary George Eustice are among 12 MPs to sign a letter urging Jeremy Hunt to pump £400 million into colleges so they continue to offer a wide range of courses.

There are 163 further education colleges in England, which provide technical courses to 1.6 million adults and young people each year.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Government spending in 2024-25 on 16 to 18 college students will be around 5% below 2010-11 levels and funding for adults taking classroom-based courses will remain 40% below 2009-10 levels.

The letter was organised by backbench Conservative MP Peter Aldous, who is chair of the all-party group on further education and lifelong learning.

The text of the letter:

Dear Jeremy,

As a group of Conservative MPs, we are writing to raise our deep concerns about the financial health of the college sector and to ask you in your Spring Statement to increase college funding by £400m for the next academic year. We fear that without that investment, colleges that serve our constituencies will need to make decisions later this year which will damage their capacity to deliver the skills needed for the economic growth and levelling up that we all want to see.

Analysis from the Association of Colleges shows that there are a number of factors leading to a perfect financial storm for the college sector including lower than expected enrolments, considerable doubts about autumn 2023 enrolments, high and rising costs, and additional costs and wasted expenditure for the significant group of colleges who have been trapped by the mid-year decision to require ESFA approval for any borrowing. This dire financial outlook means many colleges will have to make large-scale redundancies, increase class sizes, close down campuses and restrict or pull out completely of some skills shortage areas.

Colleges and other further education providers have an essential role to play in meeting the Government’s plans to grow the economy – but they need urgent investment to be able to do that. What we hear from colleges serving our communities is that there are no easy cuts to make in colleges, they have already cut to the bone. We are of course aware that the current state of the public finances is challenging, and you have many difficult decision to make, but it’s our collective view that investing in skills is not only the right thing to do, but also delivers a return on investment for the Exchequer.

We would therefore urge you to boost investment in colleges by £400m in the upcoming Spring Budget and to help ensure further education plays its full role in meeting our Government’s ambitions. We’re conscious that your diary is very full leading up 15th March, but we would welcome the opportunity to meet you to advise you of our concerns and the feedback that we are receiving from the colleges that serve our constituents.

Peter Aldous MP

Simon Fell MP

Robin Walker MP

The Rt Hon George Eustice MP

Tracey Crouch CBE MP

Gordon Henderson MP

Jonathan Gullis MP

James Wild MP

Siobhan Baillie MP

Philip Davies MP

Selaine Saxby MP

The Rt Hon Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP

David Hughes, the Association of Colleges chief executive said:

“Colleges urgently need £400 million to continue delivering a full array of high-quality technical education and training to 1.6 million students a year. The Chancellor has the opportunity in his spring statement to reverse the trend of underinvesting in skills and guarantee adults and young people alike access to the teaching they need to get the jobs they want.

“Colleges provide people with the skills they need to do the jobs our economy is crying out for, whether its builders or chefs, electricians or mechanics and everything in between. Without this cash injection, colleges will have to make unenviable decisions which ultimately will impact student choice and limit opportunities.

“Jeremy Hunt has spoken about the link between upskilling people and boosting productivity to support economic growth. We now need those words to be translated into funding.”

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