Colleges deserve better than political hypocrisy

19th October 2018, 12:00am
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Colleges deserve better than political hypocrisy

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/colleges-deserve-better-political-hypocrisy

Three cheers for colleges. Thanks to the unprecedented cross-sector love-in that is Colleges Week, we all (hashtag) Love Our Colleges and everything's going to be fine. Look, even education secretary Damian Hinds is on board. He ACTUALLY VISITED a college last week (just before Colleges Week, by remarkable coincidence) and gamely wore a badge sporting the campaign logo.

Skills minister Anne Milton is apparently a paid-up supporter, too. FErret managed to sneak in to a fringe event at the Tory Party Conference the other week (all those years burrowing beneath Birmingham's ICC to gain access to the Association of Colleges' annual conference weren't for nothing, you know) where she bemoaned the fact that FE gets "crowded out" of public discourse by schools and universities.

"I can only do so much as one person, and the minister of state who is passing through government, for however long it is," Milton told the session, the poor little lamb (come on now, who was that at the back who said "not for long if you keep trashing your own flagship qualifications"? Behave).

Her boss appears to be faring little better. Education secretary Damian Hinds managed to rummage down the back of the Department for Education sofa to find enough coppers for a pay rise for school teachers, not a penny to fund a pay rise for college teachers was forthcoming.

This is the real kick in the balls for the FE sector: the sustained and systematic underfunding of the FE sector since 2010, with not a penny's increase in the base per-student funding rate in this period.

Be in no doubt: the government's rhetoric about the importance of skills, while all the while undermining it through a lack of proper investment, is rank hypocrisy. And it's only been allowed to happen because ministers have known full well that they could get away with diverting funding to more headline-grabbing areas.

But no more. The AoC, unions and NUS deserve credit for awakening the FE sector from its slumbers. The lack of a pay rise was the straw that broke the camel's back. And now we have college staff and students, the life blood of the sector, making their case vociferously.

The core mission of Colleges Week must be to expose the breathtaking double standards of government when it comes to the "fundamental" importance of the FE sector. It's time for its ministers to do their job and make damn sure the Treasury gives colleges the funding they deserve.

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