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John McDonnell: 'If we don't invest in FE, we will not compete in a global market'

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The government will "undermine" the economy for future generations if it fails to invest in the FE sector, shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said.

As thousands of members of the University and College Union (UCU) took part in a national one-day strike in response to the Association of Colleges' not offering a pay rise for college staff in 2015-16, Mr McDonnell addressed a UCU rally in Westminster this afternoon.

"What I resent about what this government is doing is that it is destroying the life chances of thousands of millions of people right across our country. And I get angry about it," he told the meeting.

He added: "If we don't invest in FE, we will not compete in the global market. It's absolutely common sense economics." 

Mr McDonnell told the meeting about his experience as a learner at the former Burnley Technical College, which helped him progress from working on the shop floor of a television factory to getting a degree at Brunel University in London.

"I know the value of FE because it changed my life," he told the meeting. "It opened up the world of education and a world free of physical labour. That’s what FE colleges did for me."

Standing ovation for @johnmcdonnellmp at the @UCU strikers lobby #fairpayinFE pic.twitter.com/x8U0lrnGZQ

— TES Further Ed (@tesfenews) November 10, 2015

UCU estimated that more than 200 FE colleges and 20,000 members of staff were affected by the strike.

This morning, Labour published a new analysis which warned that colleges could face at least £1.6 billion of cuts in the chancellor's upcoming spending review.

Other speakers at the rally, held at the Emmanuel Centre, included shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden and UCU general secretary Sally Hunt.

Wojciech Dmochowski, an Esol teacher from Tower Hamlets College, told TES that over the past five years, his college had faced 50 per cent cuts in state funding. "The situation is critical," he said. "We've cut courses and staff have been leaving in droves. It's an absolutely appalling scenario."

Pete Hardy, an art student at City Lit, said: "It shouldn't be about the government and it shouldn't be about finances. It should be about education – and that's always the thing that suffers."

After the rally, hundreds marched to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to protest.

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