Brexit could lead to communities being excluded from higher education, according to Labour’s shadow FE and HE minister. Gordon Marsden told Tes that the impact Britain leaving the European Union was likely to have on higher education providers – both in terms of staffing and funding – would also affect colleges offering higher education courses.
“I have banged on about this a lot, but it got drowned by the concern for the HE sector,” he said. “What I am most concerned about directly in terms of FE colleges is FE colleges that deliver HE. They are going to be directly affected by this.”
Background: 'Build on the European Social Fund after Brexit'
Leaving communities behind
That, he said, could lead to them abandoning higher education provision, leaving students without a local provider. “That will leave rural communities even more behind because their local college no longer does HE,” said Mr Marsden.
He added that the loss of European Social Fund (ESF) funding after the current round was another area of concern. “If we leave with or without a deal, we are not going to get the money from the ESF. The government has said we don’t need to worry, but this is very vague. It has not been quantified properly. That sort of funding won’t be replaced immediately.”
And even if there was a government fund, that would amount to a lot less than colleges currently receive from Europe, he suggested. “That will affect a range of sectors, the NHS being the first one.”
Mr Marsden said he was unconvinced by new prime minister Boris Johnson’s funding promises for the FE sector. “What crumbs there will be will remain to be seen. There is no detail on that. What is well understood is the huge gap between the schools sector and the billions of pounds that have been taken out of the FE sector,” said Mr Marsden.
He added: “And if, for the sake of argument, the ship did come in and there was a lot more money for the FE sector, we would need to be very careful about how that money was spent. We have made it very clear we would want to do something about employment structures.”
He explained that there were many posts in colleges where retiring lecturers were not replaced, as well as many on short-term or zero-hour contracts. There was also a significant gap, the shadow minister said, between lecturers' and senior managers' pay.
That was despite the fact that the demands on the FE sector meant many more lecturers would be required. The new T levels were an example of this, he said, adding: “Who is going to teach them?”