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Students voice concerns over FE cuts

Fears range from unaffordable childcare to older students losing out

Fears range from unaffordable childcare to older students losing out

The personal turned political this week for further education students, as they described how budget cuts to the college sector would affect everything from childcare costs to retraining opportunities for ex- servicemen.

Students from the Fife colleges of Adam Smith and Carnegie, and the Inverclyde and North Ayrshire campuses of James Watt College used an open forum in Edinburgh to prepare their submission to the Government's Putting Learners at the Centre consultation.

School leavers, former servicemen and young mothers revealed their personal worries - from concerns about how to pay for childcare that was no longer covered by student support, to difficulties surviving on "just over pound;30 a week when a bottle of juice in the canteen is pound;1.50".

Many were worried about the impact on older learners of the focus on 16 to 19-year-olds. "Access to colleges should be based on your willingness to learn, not your age or status," said one student. Another added that "16- 19 is age discrimination".

Students had already felt the effect of last year's 10 per cent cut, said Robert Foster, one of the student presidents at James Watt College, and they were concerned about how further cuts would impact on their studies.

College staff would be making a separate response, centred on their fears around job losses, said Nicholas Eley, the other James Watt president. But students had a different focus and it was therefore important they stood up for themselves.

"My concern is for my family, because I have a little girl who is going to go to college at some point," said 29-year-old Frances Beattie, a student at James Watt.

Adam Smith student John Fuller, 34, said he had been able to go on to college after a career in the armed forces - but he feared many of his fellow ex-servicemen would not have the same opportunities because of the proposed cuts.

The students were joined by Craig Thomson, principal of Adam Smith College, and Sue Pinder, principal of James Watt College. They, too, revealed their personal concerns about the impending reforms.

"I feel absolutely devastated by what is happening," said Mrs Pinder. "I understand, as we all do, that there is less money. Do I think it is a good thing that funding for FE colleges is being cut by pound;74 million? Absolutely not. Do I want to implement a further 10 per cent (cut) on my college, my students, my colleagues? No. And I think that feeling is shared," she said.

Both principals agreed the meeting with students was "the most important thing" they would do this week. julia.belgutay@tess.co.uk.

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