Today the Liberal Democrats unveiled their full manifesto pledges on post-16 education.
The promises include £1 billion in extra funding, refunding colleges on VAT and creating a “young people’s premium”.
“Further education is a vital route to learning and we will invest to support it,” the manifesto said.
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Further education funding
The Lib Dems have pledged £1 billion of extra funding for FE. This includes refunding colleges for the VAT they pay.
The party's education spokesperson, Layla Moran (pictured), told the Lib Dem conference in Brighton in August that the “narrow, rigid template” given to students of working hard to achieve academically, before proceeding to university, did not suit everyone.
At the time, she said: “While this story could well be the template for a great life, it could also be misleading, and even potentially damaging. Because life doesn’t often work out this way. And when it doesn’t, our education system simply struggles to cope."
She pointed out that two out of five FE colleges were in deficit, and said it was “time we ended the divide between schools and colleges”.
The party has also pledged to extend the pupil premium to 16-18 students, creating the new “young people’s premium”. This would be based on the same eligibility criteria as the pupil premium, but a portion of it would be paid directly to the young person.
The Lib Dems have proposed introducing a "Skills Wallet", which would give all adults over 25 a £10,000 grant over their lifetime to pay for further education or training. The money could be used to pay for education or training courses. Under the scheme, adults would also be able to access free careers advice. Individuals could choose how and when to spend this money on “a range of approved education and training courses from providers who are regulated and monitored by the Office for Students”. A Lib Dem government would “work with industry to identify skills needs and to evaluate and certify courses”.
Skills and training levy
The Lib Dems would expand the apprenticeship levy into a wider “skills and training levy”. Some 25 per cent of the funds raised by the levy would go into a “Social Mobility Fund” targeted at areas with the greatest skill needs.
The party would develop national colleges as “national centres of expertise for key sectors, such as renewable energy, to deliver the high-level vocational skills that businesses need”.
Boosting level 4 and 5
The Liberal Democrats would work to address the shortage of advanced technicians by expanding “higher vocational training like foundation degrees, Higher National Diplomas, Higher National Certificates and higher apprenticeships”.
Other post-16 education policies
- Raise standards in universities by strengthening the Office for Students, to make sure all students receive a high-quality education.
- Require universities to make mental health services accessible to their students, and introduce a Student Mental Health Charter through legislation.
- Reinstate maintenance grants for the poorest students, ensuring that living costs are not a barrier to disadvantaged young people studying at university.
- Establish a review of higher education finance in the next parliament to consider any necessary reforms in the light of the latest evidence of the impact of the existing financing system on access, participation and quality, and make sure there is no more retrospective raising of rates or selling-off of loans to private companies.
- Ensure that all universities work to widen participation for disadvantaged and underrepresented groups across the sector, prioritising their work with students in schools and colleges. Require that every university be transparent about selection criteria.
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said it was "great to see another major further education announcement from a major political party".
He added: "Scrapping the learning tax and raising the funding rate for 16- to 19-year-olds are a step in the right direction in levelling the playing field for colleges. It’s absolutely right that the political parties continue to make this election about improving the life chances of all people.”
Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto contains some very welcome commitments on post-16 education.
"Our understanding is that most of the £1 billion investment announced today will be used to raise the rate of funding for sixth-form students. This would help to ensure that colleges and schools have the resources they need to provide every 16- to 18-year-old with a high-quality education – the fundamental aim of the Raise the Rate campaign.
"Schools have their VAT costs refunded but colleges do not – we estimate that the Lib Dem commitment to scrap this ‘learning tax’ would mean the average sixth-form college had an additional £350,000 per year to spend on the front line education of students. Increasing investment for schools and colleges, and reducing inequality between schools and colleges, will benefit all sixth-form students, irrespective of where they choose to study.”