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Leaner and fitter, but at what cost?

Comment: Alan Thomson

Comment: Alan Thomson

The human cost of the funding cuts to further education was laid bare this week by the University and College Union.

And while senior managers are no doubt trying their best to minimise the impact, the price looks like it is going to be high.

Weeks ago, the Association of Colleges said that the sector could lose up to 7,000 jobs and we are more than half way there.

Whether, or how soon, we reach that figure remains to be seen. But assuming that the UCU survey is an early snapshot of the cost-cutting strategies of the most proactive institutions andor those in the deepest financial trouble, it would be fair to assume there will be a further wave of redundancies as the rest of the sector catches up.

It is of particular concern that up to half the 3,453 redundancies could be compulsory. The UCU has taken managers at their word when they have said they cannot rule out compulsory redundancies - a common phrase used by those who need to leave their options open. The threat of compulsories will help the union rally its troops, but it is to be hoped that the actual number of jobs lost this way will be far lower.

Then there is wider human cost in terms of what these cuts mean for the educational provision and opportunities to students and to local communities.

Unsurprisingly, cuts to adult learning funding, averaging about 16 per cent in the sector, is the reason for redundancies given by many of the colleges surveyed. In some cases this is compounded by the direct impact of the recession on student recruitment in areas like construction.

Providers will be looking at reconfiguring their provision, scaling back and closing less popular courses and investing in high demand areas. The same happened in the university sector years ago when the idea that each university offered everything from classics to catering died, along with the concept of free higher education.

A system where each FE provider plays to its strengths and leaves the rest to others in the market is surely no bad thing.

Except, and it is a crucial point for FE and society in general, what happens to the educationally dispossesed and disenfranchised? They are expensive to recruit and retain and, unlike HE, there is no proper system of student support.

Painful though they are, FE will survive the cuts and redundancies to emerge leaner and fitter. The same will not be true for those FE is forced to abandon.

Alan Thomson, FE Editor


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