The Department for Education has agreed to provide additional funding to help university technical colleges (UTCs) attract more students.
A letter sent to UTC principals and chairs of governors earlier this year, and seen by Tes, outlined that the DfE is to provide transitional funding in recognition of “the particular pupil recruitment challenges faced by UTCs in their early years”.
In the letter, the DfE states that the funding – worth £200,000 in each of the current and next two academic years – will ensure that each UTC has “enough resource to carry out the vital marketing and pupil recruitment activity, as well as implementing a fully integrated broad and balanced technical and academic curriculum.”
With 48 UTCs open and six more due to welcome their first students by 2019, the funding is expected to amount to £31 million over the three-year period. The transitional funding was confirmed in a DfE funding document published in April.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said that she opposed any diversion of funds from colleges to “the failed UTC project”.
“Seven UTCs have already been forced to close, yet this significant scale of failure is being swept under the carpet as the government carries on investing in UTCs as if they are the future,” she said. “Further education colleges already provide technical education for young people but instead of investing in colleges, the government is diverting funds to the failed UTC project.”
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, called on the government to “take a long hard look at how the UTC experiment is working, or more accurately, all too often not working”.
“What’s needed is a simple review of UTCs in their localities, alongside school sixth forms to complement the area review carried out for colleges over the last two years,” he added. “That would be more constructive than additional funding to prop up UTCs, which may not be needed to meet students’ needs.”
Out of 51 UTCs that have been launched, seven have been forced to close. A further four projects were terminated before opening.
Last month, a report by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) said that more support was needed from the government to help UTCs.
Without it, the report said, the colleges “are likely to continue to struggle and be vulnerable to closure in future”. The report pointed out that of the 37 UTCs that had been open for at least two years by the start of the current academic year, only 14 were operating at or above 50 per cent capacity, while nine were less than a quarter full.
Last year, Lord Baker, the founder of UTCs, told Tes that the model had not failed, but admitted it was a struggle for them to remain open. Recruitment challenges at age 14, he said, were a major difficulty for many UTCs.
Peter Wylie, the Baker Dearing Educational Trust's director of education, said: “We welcome any additional funding for UTC that enables them to offer a specialist technical education to as many young people as possible.”
The DfE said: “We have made additional transitional funding available to most UTCs, subject to strict criteria on improving education standards and financial viability, to support them as they establish themselves."
This is an edited version of an article in the 7 July edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Your new-look Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents.