The government has "reduced the capacity" of FE colleges to participate in higher education, Gordon Marsden has claimed.
The shadow minister for higher education, further education and skills, said that FE colleges were not being viewed by ministers as a "key element for expansion" of the HE sector, despite offering "over 10 per cent of all HE courses in the UK".
Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday during a debate about the Higher Education and Research Bill, the MP for Blackpool South said that FE colleges were a "key driver of improvements to social mobility", and questioned why the government had not made them an integral part of the recent White Paper on higher education.
"[Colleges] currently deliver over 10 per cent of all HE courses in this country, often for the most disadvantaged students, and often in places where there is currently a dearth of stand-alone HE provision and a history of low skills in the local economy," Mr Marsden said.
"They span all over the country, from the NCG in the North East to Cornwall College in the South West, as well as [the] excellent Blackpool and the Fylde College. And last year 33,700 English applicants were awarded maintenance grants for HE courses at FE colleges. Would one not have thought therefore that the government might have seen them as a key element for expansion as part of their array of challenger institutions?"
In May, the government's White Paper was welcomed by many in the FE sector as a step towards granting more colleges full taught degree-awarding powers.
At the time, Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "Choice, access and quality are the welcome watchwords of the government’s long-awaited plans to open up higher education and to allow more colleges to award HE qualifications."
However Mr Marsden this week questioned the strategy of the White Paper to increase the numbers of young graduates, while cutting the budget for adult skills and English for speakers of other languages (Esol) provision.
He pointed out that the government's projections up to 2027-28 forecast exactly the same number of colleges delivering HE as in 2018-19. "Other alternative providers are projected to more than double," Mr Marsden added. "It’s true that this bill will make it easier to get the title to award their own degrees but what capacity will it be for them when systematic cuts in colleges, Esol, adult skills and other areas have reduced the capacity of FE to participate in HE expansion?"
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