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'Public funding is vital if we want to create a world-class education system'


Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, writes:

Lecturers will be taking their campaign to secure better funding for colleges and universities direct to MPs today as part of the University and College Union’s campaign to support education.

Teachers in colleges, universities and prisons will be accompanied by around 30 students from Tower Hamlets College in east London. 

At a time of continued uncertainty across post-16 education, UCU members and students are keen to spell out the cuts and their impact first hand to politicians who may not be aware of the full extent.

As we keep being reminded, we are just over a year away from a general election and we want to ensure that education is firmly in the sights of all the political parties.

Lobbyists will highlight that we spend less than the international average on education. Are all MPs aware that education funding is being cut?

The adult skills budget in England will reduce by 19 per cent (£463 million) between now and 2016. In Wales, the budget for adult and community learning is due to be slashed by 37.5 per cent.

Higher Education is also facing another squeeze as the teaching grant is set to reduce by 42 per cent (£1.2 billion) by 2016. Institutions will face a 5.85 per cent funding drop in teaching budgets next year (2014/15).

Meanwhile, public money has been pouring into private providers who have been the beneficiaries of more than £300m via student loans as courses available for public subsidy, and their student numbers, have shot up.

These private providers are not subject to the same quality checks as their public counterparts, and UCU has repeatedly called for controls on the number of students they are allowed to recruit.

Frustratingly, those calls were ignored and in November the government finally had to face the reality that the situation was spiralling out of control and ask private providers to stop recruiting.

It makes so much sense to invest in our publicly funded education system and seems counter-productive to so many of the government’s stated aims to do otherwise. Study after study has shown that investment in education and training pays dividends many times over.

We know that skilled and educated people are the key drivers of economic growth, creating jobs and prosperity for the country.

The net public benefit of an individual being educated to tertiary level is 13 per cent, meaning that for every pound invested beyond secondary education, £13 is returned to the UK economy. On a personal level, better educated people are more likely to be happy and healthy, and contribute more to wider society.

While many other countries, including the emerging economies, recognise the value of investing more in public education, the UK is in danger of falling behind. Public funding is vitally important because it is the only means by which financial barriers to educational opportunity can be removed.

All parties must spell out their plans for how we will remain able to deliver world class public education ahead of the election clear. Today we will be ensuring politicians have a better understanding of the current problems.

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