MPs have urged the government to increase funding for the further education sector in a debate in Westminster this afternoon.
In the debate, introduced following a petition launched by college students, which has attracted almost 70,000 signatures, MPs from across the political spectrum highlighted the great work done by their local colleges.
The debate was lead by Labour MP David Zeichner, who said colleges in his own area had had to make significant cuts. He added that there was a lack of understanding within the government and beyond on the important and role of the FE sector. Recruitment and retention issues for FE staff were also cited by a number of MPs.
'Helping the minister'
Chair of the education committee Robert Halfon stressed that investment in T levels was not the same as core investment in the further education sector. “'Yes, the committee is hearing evidence critical of the government's approach, but what we want to do is help the minister,” he said, adding that the collective aim had to be securing more funding for FE.
Further Education is vital for our economy. Done well, it can tackle three huge— Robert Halfon MP -Working Hard for Harlow- (@halfon4harlowMP) January 21, 2019
deficits: our skills deficit, our social capital deficit and our social justice deficit. #CollegeFundingDebate #LoveOurColleges
Conservative MP John Hayes added there was “a strong utilitarian case for FE, in terms of feeding the economy with the skills it needs, and there is also a communal case in terms of community health. Learning helps people grow, and as they grow, they become better citizens.”
He added: “Ultimately, the case for FE should be made for its own sake. People are more joyful, contented, better for the learning they gain in FE colleges across this country, and we should be proud of that."
'Not just the government's fault'
Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Lloyd said it was worth noting that the FE sector had been exposed to a series of cuts over a number of years. “All of us have our hands dirty on this one,” he said, adding: “It isn’t just the government’s fault but there is an opportunity now for the government to change tack. I look forward to the government acknowledging there is a problem and to make a commitment today, in this debate, to come up with additional funds.
"I look forward to the government not just saying empty words and not using the T level half a billion to say that solves the problem, because that is different. I look forward to hearing from the government real beef and vegetables”.
Since 2010 the Government has cut spending in further education by £3.3 billion. It's been devastating for FE students, especially the higher proportion of working-class students who attend FE colleges. It's time the government invested in FE. #Loveourcolleges pic.twitter.com/kya5FSBOBY— Rushanara Ali (@rushanaraali) January 21, 2019
Skills minister Anne Milton said: "I am not going to go through a whole raft of the things we have funded. But overall, funding has not kept up with cost."
She urged members from all political parties to "work together to make that case", adding: "We want FE to be sustainable. Area reviews have done some of the work but there is probably more work to do. Can I reassure you that I will continue to champion FE as we prepare for the spending review. I reject any suggestion that I don't care about FE." She said she was "the first to challenge the intellectual snobbery" that existed.
The petition was launched in October last year by a politics A level class at Brockenhurst College in Hampshire – ahead of Colleges Week in November. It says: “We call on the government to urgently increase college funding to sustainable levels, including immediate parity with recently announced increases to schools funding. This will give all students a fair chance, give college staff fair pay and provide the high-quality skills the country needs.”