Never has such a major report on FE sunk without trace quite as quickly as the Augar review.
Were they to be implemented, the recommendations within it would be profound. At least £1 billion in capital funding for colleges. All individuals being entitled to their first "full" level 2 and 3 qualifications for free. A lifelong-learning loan allowance for courses at levels 4, 5 and 6 for non-graduates. Three-year adult education budget allocations.
So far, so brilliant. In theory. On 30 May, I watched the actual prime minister giving a passionate speech about why further education was vital to the UK. It was as surreal as it staggering. The actual prime minister at the time, of course, was Theresa May. Remember her?
Eight days later, she was gone, and the prospects of the recommendations ever becoming reality were thrown into doubt.
'Bad policy, bad politics'?
There has been little since then to raise confidence that the government of Boris Johnson has any plans to put it into practice – not least the appointment of his brother Jo, a fervent opponent of the report (in particular the prospect of taking money away from HE to fund FE), as HE minister.
Looks like Augar (as predicted) will destabilise uni finances, imperil many courses & reverse progress in widening access. Reducing fees to £7.5k will leave funding hole HMT won't fill + benefit only highest earning grads at expense of general taxpayer. Bad policy, bad politics.— Jo Johnson (@JoJohnsonUK) May 29, 2019
While a modest increase to the 16-18 rate was announced over the weekend, the one-off, single-year package only makes a dent in the years of underfunding the FE sector has been dealt. No major Augar recommendations were wheeled out by chancellor Sajid Javid.
While recent chaos in Parliament has shown that making any kind of political predictions in the current febrile environment is a fool’s errand, today’s shock news that Johnson junior has quit the government and Parliament owing to being "torn between family loyalty and the national interest" means that the Augar review has at least lost its most vociferous opponent around the Cabinet table.
Don’t forget that the government still has not published an official response to the Augar review; who will be in charge when this finally materialises is anyone’s guess. But, should the elder Johnson’s administration manage to cling on to power through fair means or foul, Augar’s recommendations could at least be back on the table for more serious consideration than looked likely until this morning’s bombshell.
Stephen Exley is FE editor at Tes