Colleges in Northern Ireland are facing swingeing cuts to their budgets, amounting to nearly £50 million over five years.
Colleges NI, which represents the six FE colleges in Northern Ireland, has demanded an urgent rethink of the proposals presented in Budgetary Outlook put forward by the devolved administration’s Department of Finance for the next two years.
In the past decade, the number of colleges in Northern Ireland was reduced from 16 to 6 colleges and the sector has faced cuts in excess of £20 million since 2015-16. They now face further cuts of between £14-27 million.
Hitting those in need
The proposals, which Colleges NI say undermine the life chances of the most vulnerable in society and fail to consider longer-term economic and social impacts, include ending Entry Level and Level 1 provision. This would have an impact on 15,000 learners – and ceasing or reducing payments under the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) would affect around 8,000 FE students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
A spokesman for Colleges NI said: “Northern Ireland continues to have the highest proportion of working age population with no formal qualifications.
“These proposals undermine the up-skilling of the most vulnerable in our society and it is misguided to think that alternative existing provision could fill the gaps that some of these proposals will create. The proposals will also impinge on economic growth by reducing access to skills.”
Harming social mobility
The six FE colleges in Northern Ireland, Belfast Metropolitan, Northern Regional, North West Regional, Southern Regional South Eastern Regional and South West, are all facing significant financial pressures.
Colleges in Northern Ireland join those England, Scotland and Wales in their calls for more funding in the face of significantly squeezed budgets.
The chief executive of the Association of Colleges, David Hughes, said last year: “The prime minister has spoken eloquently and convincingly about her commitment to a country that works for everyone. I don’t think she can achieve that without fair funding for colleges because colleges are the engine rooms of social mobility and lifelong learning.”