The general election result has left the college sector “in limbo”, the chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC) has said.
Overall, the Conservative Party have won the largest number of seats, but have failed to secure a majority. Both education secretary Justine Greening and skills and apprenticeships minister Robert Halfon were returned to their seats, in Putney and Harlow respectively, while shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden also won his seat.
David Hughes, chief executive of the AoC said: “Last night’s election result has left us all in limbo. In the short term, the uncertainty and possible delays put even more pressure on some of the key operational decisions which DfE need to make very quickly."
Country must be self-sufficient
He added the AoC’s message throughout the election campaign had been simple: “For the UK to succeed in a post-Brexit world, this country must be more self-sufficient in skills. Colleges are ready to make this a reality. We need to develop a culture of lifelong learning and make this the norm in all communities for all people.
"To achieve this, colleges need to have the right investment. We will continue to push this message to the next government, however this is formed.”
Mr Hughes said that if there was a minority Conservative government or a coalition led by the Conservatives, they would face “a confident and more legitimate Labour opposition”. “Labour made gains on a platform which moves on considerably from the austerity focus of the last seven years," he said. "That will help us build the case for more post-16 investment.”
The University and College Union (UCU) said that the next government had to prioritise investment in further and higher education and act swiftly to end the uncertainty over the position of EU nationals who make up a substantial part of the UK's education workforce.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU said: "It is encouraging to see that a positive message, particularly after the unpleasant Brexit campaign last year, can still inspire voters. Theresa May called this election expecting to secure a mandate for a hard Brexit. She has signally failed to achieve that and the next government must bring some stability in these chaotic times."
She added: "We believe an important first step is to now guarantee the rights of EU citizens currently in the UK, including thousands of university and college staff and students who contribute so much to our economy and society. It looks like young people, in particular, have been inspired to vote in greater numbers in this election, with a number of seats in towns and cities with universities and colleges changing hands. This is really encouraging and a vindication of all those, including UCU, who worked so hard to encourage young people to register to vote, and to vote for the first time."
'Real challenges' ahead
Stephen Wright, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, said: "Constant change is a feature of the technical and professional skills sector and it is to be seen whether a new administration brings in new ideas. However, as we enter a period of political uncertainty, whatever government emerges must address the wholly unrealistic timetable for the radical changes being planned for technical and professional qualifications.
"Apprenticeships and T levels are technically complex programmes facing real challenges at a critical stage of their development. We owe it to both learners and employers to get it right and that requires both solid political support and sufficient time."