FE funding promises don't go far enough, says EPI

The government will have to revise its funding for technical education or risk falling further behind other nations, says new report

Julia Belgutay

The government needs to better support FE or risk falling behind other countries

Extra funding promised to FE by the government will only reverse a quarter of the cuts the sector has experienced, according to a new report.

According to the Education Policy Institute, the UK’s funding gap between technical and academic education is considerable, with technical education routes receiving 23 per cent less funding than academic routes.   

Today’s report – entitled "An international comparison of technical education funding systems" – says this is not the case in other countries such as Austria, the Netherlands and Germany, where technical education is funded at a significantly higher rate than academic pathways. 

Last year, education secretary Gavin Williamson said he wanted the UK to “overtake Germany” within a decade.

News: £400m boost for colleges: 16-18 funding finally raised

Quick read: Boris Johnson backs FE funding

Background: Williamson vows to 'super-charge further education'

Funding per student

Overall, the average spend of OECD (the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries is 16 per cent more per technical student than per academic student, EPI points out, and technical education funding per student is lower in the UK than the OECD average. According to EPI, in 2016, the UK as a whole spent £6,990 per student on average, compared with an OECD average of £8,080.

Funding for 16-19 education in England has seen a real-term drop of 16 per cent between 2010-11 and 2018-19, the report explains, and so the recent government promise of a funding increase of £400 million for 16-19 education, announced by Sajid Javid last year, only reverse a quarter of cuts to the sector since 2010-11.

The lack of funding for technical education in England is also reflected in less generous student support, with government bursary funding to students decreased by 71 per cent per student between 2010-11 and 2018-19.

The EPI also points out that technical courses in England are cheaper to run than those offered in leading countries – fewer expensive courses, such as engineering, are available to college students in England. In addition, technical education courses in England are of short duration, and the curriculum is one of the narrowest in the developed world, the report says.

EPI says England is an international outlier with an upper secondary education offer of just two years, compared with Austria, where some programmes last as long as five years and Denmark and Norway, where they take four years.

While leading technical education nations allow students to continue to study languages, maths and other general subjects to help them prepare for the labour market or further study, there is no such universal requirement in England. To broaden the curriculum would likely require increased levels of funding, the report acknowledges.

The report also says that while the government’s technical education reforms, including the new T levels, are a positive development, they do not go far enough.

Ministers should review funding for technical pathways, increase the number of 16-19 apprenticeship starts, review the adequacy of student support and reconsider curriculum breadth and the length of technical courses, the report concludes.

David Robinson, report author and the EPI's director of post-16 and skills, said: "This research highlights the gulf between England and successful technical education nations. The government’s recent reforms, including the new T levels, are a step in the right direction, but policies must go further if we are to be considered a leader in Europe."  

"If it wishes to draw level with countries like Germany, the government must give further consideration to properly funding technical education, in order to sustain quality. We must also ask serious questions about the structure of our upper secondary programmes, which are uniquely narrow and short by international standards. The breadth of the curriculum and length of technical courses should be reviewed."

David Laws, EPI executive chairman, added: “This report highlights that technical education beyond secondary school age has typically been poorly funded in England, compared with other countries and other phases of education. There has also been a good deal of policy change and instability, including around post-16 qualifications. If the government wants to deliver on its aspirations in this area, these weaknesses need urgently addressing."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The education secretary has been clear that boosting further education is at the heart of his vision for a world class education system. We are investing significantly to level up skills and opportunity across the country. In addition to our £3 billion National Skills Fund, we have announced a £400m increase to 16 to 19 funding for 2020-2021, creating longer, higher-quality technical apprenticeships.

“Alongside this, our traineeship programme is a great way for young people to develop the skills and confidence they need to progress on to employment, or a high quality apprenticeship.”


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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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