The FE sector is braced for further cuts, as the Treasury has instructed Whitehall departments with non-protected budgets to identify areas of “potential savings”.
The Times reported that Liz Truss, the chief secretary to the Treasury, instructed her cabinet colleagues to find areas of their departmental budgets that could be cut.
Budgets that are not protected, including further education and local government, may have to make cuts of up to 5 per cent.
Minister should 'fight the sector’s corner'
It comes as education secretary Damian Hinds said in a landmark speech on social mobility on Tuesday that “technical education in this country has long been seen by many as the second-best option to academic study and university".
University and College Union head of further education Andrew Harden said further education staff have suffered worse cuts than any in the public sector.
He added: "Further cuts would be an act of self-harm on an economy already facing skills shortages and the challenges of Brexit. [Skills minister] Anne Milton told the Commons Education Select Committee recently that she is going to the Treasury to seek cash for further education, and we expect her and the education secretary to fight the sector’s corner.
“We have been quite clear that colleges need to make decent pay and conditions for staff a priority, and the government should help them to do that. After years of warm words, staff will not accept eleventh-hour excuses to hold down their pay. Whether the government delivers extra funding or not, colleges must deliver on pay this year."
'College students and staff have already taken on too much pain'
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said if the news is true, it has the prospect of making the challenges colleges are facing even harder.
Mr Hughes said: “The news that the chancellor may be looking for further funding cuts from unprotected departmental budgets is very worrying for colleges. College students and staff have already taken on too much pain from the funding cuts in further education over the last decade. Only last week we saw welcome pay rises for school teachers without any plan for how college lecturers pay will be funded, putting even more pressure on colleges who need to improve pay in order to retain and recruit the best teachers.
He added: “Our young people are being short-changed compared with their counterparts in other countries and compared with previous generations. The hours of teaching and support, the choices they have and the enrichment they are offered have all reduced as funding cuts have bitten. That cannot be right.
“Colleges want to be at the forefront of meeting the education and skills needs of the country, but need the right investment to be able to do that sustainably. As Brexit gets closer, we know that we will need better post-16 education and skills opportunities for everyone, throughout their lives, to be globally competitive. Investment in people, through colleges, will bring great returns for all of us, including for the Treasury through tax returns.”