North-East colleges condemn huge adult learning cuts

In an unprecedented move all 16 further education college principals in the North-East have united to oppose a 24 per cent cut in funding for adult learning announced by the Government.

They fear that thousands of people could lose the chance of retraining for new jobs because of deep cuts by the Skills Funding Agency, part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The principals believe the £460m reduction, which follows five years of funding cuts for the further education sector, will result in many adult education courses being removed.

They will include employability programmes that the principals say are crucial in enabling unemployed adults to access the labour market and in tackling social and economic exclusion.

Vocational courses that develop the practical skills demanded by employers will also be affected, in sectors such as engineering, manufacturing, health and social care, and construction.

To illustrate the scale of the cuts East Durham College will lose £805,000 from its adult learning budget for next year while Darlington College will lose £755,000 and Bishop Auckland College will lose £650,000.

This comes at a time when the proportion of over-50s in the workforce is set to rise to a third of the workforce by 2020 (from 27 per cent at the moment) and 50 per cent of workers aged over 55 are proposing to work beyond the state pension age.

Now, principals from colleges across the North-East have joined forces with union leaders to lobby publicly against the swingeing cuts.

The principals have also written to MPs asking for questions to be tabled in Parliament and signed a nationwide petition led by the University and College Union (UCU) which has thousands of signatories.

The principals are also asking students and the business community to support the campaign.

The North-East FE colleges involved in the campaign are: Bishop Auckland College; City of Sunderland College; Cleveland College of Art and Design; Darlington College; Derwentside College; East Durham College; Gateshead College; Hartlepool College of Further Education; Middlesbrough College; New College Durham; Newcastle College; Northumberland College; Redcar and Cleveland College; South Tyneside College; Stockton Riverside College and Tyne Metropolitan College.

Natalie Davison, Principal of Bishop Auckland College, said:

“This will have a devastating impact on the communities we serve. It will stop unemployed people being able to access training to help them secure work, and hamper businesses wanting to improve the skills of their workforce in order to enable growth.”

Kate Roe, principal of Darlington College, said:

“At a time when we need to get more people of all ages into employment and help more people to access new training or improve their skills, we should not be cutting funding for adult skills.As a college we anticipated this 24 per cent cut and planned accordingly and we still offer a wealth of courses for adults. Even so, a reduction in funding of this size in courses across the Tees Valley will impact on both individuals and employers.”

They are being supported by the Association of Colleges, whose chief executive Martin Doel said:

“We’re living in an ever-changing society in which people do not keep to the same career path for their whole lives. These people need the options of returning to education or undertaking training.”

A BIS spokesperson said:

“We fully recognise the important role further education plays in getting people the skills they need to get on. That’s why we’ve committed more than £3.9 billion in 2015-16 to adult learning and further education.

“While total funding has been reduced, priority has been given the areas where the most impact can be made – apprenticeships, traineeships and support with English and maths.

“Many colleges and training organisations have responded well to the need to find other income streams for skills provision and it is this approach that will help them succeed.”

Last month Stockton-on-Tees based car parts manufacturer Nifco announced a £50m contract with Ford which has secured 350 jobs.

But engineering general manager Andy Dunn said:

“As a major automotive employer we are extremely disappointed to learn that there will be a 24 per cent cut in the funding of adult skills training in 2015-16.”

Source – Northern Echo, 24 Mar 2015

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