Revealed: What election manifestos really mean for FE

The IFS has analysed Tory, Labour and Lib Dem election pledges. Which are 'modest' - and which could be open to 'fraud'?

Julia Belgutay

Election 2019: What would the main parties' election promises cost and would they return the cuts the sector has seen?

Following a decade of cuts to further education, sixth forms and adult education, all three main parties are now proposing significant rises in spending. A new report published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) today sets out how each party's proposal would fare in terms of reversing the cuts of recent years.

While the Conservatives have proposed “relatively modest” increases to both further and adult education, the IFS says, Labour has proposed bigger rises for further education and sixth forms, which would take spending per student back to levels last seen before 2015.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have proposed extremely large rises in spending and eligibility for adult education, the report, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and published today, also explains. It adds that these plans come with “risks that spending might exceed plans if take-up is higher than expected, or even of fraud if the process is not well-regulated”.

Lib Dem manifesto: Skills wallets and funding

Labour manifesto: A National Education Service and adult education

Conservative manifesto: £3bn for ‘national skills fund’

So what exactly are the main parties’ spending proposals and to what extent will they reverse the cuts that the further educations sector has seen?

16-18 education – Conservatives policies

  • The Conservative Party manifesto confirmed announcements from the 2019 spending round, including a £300 million increase in spending on further education colleges and sixth forms in 2020–21, at least a 4 per cent real-terms rise in spending per student, as well as plans for further increases in future years to support the introduction of T levels. “If total spending is then protected in real-terms up to 2022-23 overall funding per student will grow by less than 4 per cent over this period as student numbers are due to increase. Under this scenario, Conservative plans would imply a 2.4 per cent real-terms rise in 16-18 college spending per student between 2019-20 and 2022-23. This would bring spending per student back to 2015 levels, but still about 8 per cent below its level in 2010," the IFS explains.
  • School sixth forms would see further falls in spending per student by just over 2 per cent in real terms, leaving it more than a quarter below its level in 2010 and lower than at any point in at least 20 years.
  • The Conservative Party also proposed additional capital spending of £1.8 billion in cash-terms between 2021 and 2026 to upgrade the further education estate.

16-18 education - Labour policies

  • Labour’s manifesto would reintroduce the Education Maintenance Allowance for 16- to 18-year-olds at an annual cost of around £750 million and bring an increase of about £600 in spending per student by increasing the basic amount allocated to schools and colleges for 16- to 18-year-olds to the level for 14- to 16-year-olds. “Assuming these are on top of existing government plans, this would provide for a more than 13 per cent rise in spending per student in 16-18 colleges between 2019-20 and 2022-23 - taking it back to its level in 2010 – along with a 10 per cent rise in spending per student in school sixth forms, taking this back to its level in 2015," the IFS says.

16-18 education - Liberal Democrat policies

  • The Liberal Democrat manifesto pledges to increase spending on further education by £1 billion by 2024-25, introduce a young people’s premium and spend an extra £500 million on youth services. “However, under current plans, total spending on further education is already due to rise by around £800 million in cash terms or by around £1.2 billion if we add the effect of T-level spending. If Liberal Democrat plans include these planned rises, then the path for spending per student would look very similar to that proposed by the Conservatives. If they are on top of these existing plans, then spending per student would rise by around 10 per cent in real-terms between 2019-20 and 2022-23, a similar path to Labour proposals," says the IFS.

Adult education – Conservatives policies

  • The Conservatives have proposed a National Skills Fund, which would be worth about £600 million extra per year by 2022. “This would reverse about one-fifth of the cuts to total spending on adult education and apprenticeships since 2010,” the IFS says. The Conservatives have also committed to considering the Augar review of post-18 education recommendations.

Adult education – Labour and Liberal Democrat policies

  • According to the IFS, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have both set out “substantial increases in subsidies and spending on adult education”. Labour’s plans to make every adult eligible for lifelong learning up to Level 3 and six years of lifelong learning at Levels 4-6, would, together with other adult education commitments, and excluding the cost of abolishing tuition fees, cost an extra £3.3 billion per year by 2023. “This would be close to a 90 per cent real-terms rise in total spending on adult education," the IFS says.
  • The Liberal Democrats’ proposed “Skills Wallets”, worth £10,000, which all adults could draw upon for lifelong learning, would cost about £1.6 billion extra per year in cash terms by 2024-25. This would represent about a 35 per cent real-terms rise in total spending on adult education.
  • “Whilst Labour and the Liberal Democrats are both proposing big increases in spending and eligibility, these come with significant risk and uncertainty," the IFS concludes. This is due to the fact that it is hard to predict how many people would take up those offers, as well as the risk of fraud with new providers and courses.  "This is exactly what happened with a similar policy of Individual Learner Accounts in the early 2000s, which were scrapped within a year of their introduction due to widespread fraud,” the IFS says.

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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