Meeting employer demands has 'debased' FE, says union

22nd January 2010 at 00:00
Market-driven policies condemned by UCU and calls for disincorporation of colleges now expected

Further education has been "debased" by forcing it to meet the narrow demands of employers, according to a new manifesto for post-16 education to be published next week.

In a blistering attack on government policies over the past two decades, the University and College Union (UCU) is expected to demand the disincorporation of colleges and their return to local or regional authority control.

It will condemn the market-driven policies imposed on colleges since incorporation in 1993. These, according to the UCU, have lead to confusion between the training demands made by employers and what is actually required by the economy and society.

FE Focus understands that the UCU manifesto, which will be launched at the union's lobby of Parliament, will also accuse policy-makers of "squandering" the proud history of FE staff in serving the needs of disadvantaged communities.

A "utilitarian" approach to further education has devalued staff as professionals and has lead to poor pay and conditions across the sector, it will say. The union is expected to back a return to a national system of industrial relations and equality of status for FE and school teachers.

The manifesto is likely to set out the union's opposition to the raising of the leaving age for compulsory education to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015, and is expected to argue that compelling young people to stay in education or training when they would rather be doing something else will damage the voluntary nature of FE.

FE Focus understands that the union will condemn the loss of some 1.5 million adults from the FE system in the past two years, and argue that adult learning is essential to economic and social regeneration.

Funding for all FE institutions should be returned to the democratic control of local or regional authorities, according to the union. And it is expected to argue for matched funding between FE students and school pupils.

The union is likely to suggest that the money devoted to adult learning should rise from 0.6 per cent of gross domestic product to at least 1 per cent, and call for the end of fee income targets for colleges and improved financial support for adults.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: "Our vision for education is founded on a belief in its intrinsic value as a force for the enhancement of the lives of individuals, the liberation of their talents and the realisation of a truly prosperous society.

"UCU wants a more inclusive FE curriculum that puts the broad needs of learners before the short-term needs of employers. We would like to see colleges become more community-based so they can respond to the needs of local people and are not just subservient to narrow concepts of `employability'.

"We want to see an end to the funding uncertainties and constant policy changes that have blighted the sector. Staff and students would benefit enormously from a period of sustained investment and stability."

The union's lobby of Parliament is due to take place from 2.30pm to 4.30pm on Tuesday January 26.

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