`We #loveFE': sector unites in cuts protest

10th April 2015 at 01:00
Petition started by UCU attracts more than 31,000 signatures

In an unprecedented show of solidarity, the further education sector in England has come together in an attempt to save adult education from government funding cuts.

More than 31,000 people in the past month have signed a petition calling for a planned cut of 24 per cent to the adult skills budget to be scrapped (see fefunding.org.uk).

The petition, thought to be the largest ever mounted by the sector, was started by the University and College Union (UCU) but has been backed by 20 other sector bodies including trade unions, professional associations and college groups.

The campaign's #loveFE hashtag has also gained a large following on Twitter: analysis shows it has been seen on more than 1.1 million devices.

Andrew Harden, the UCU's national official for FE, said politicians had "seriously underestimated" the strength of feeling on the issue. "It's great to see the sector united and advocating for itself in a way it has never done before," he added.

"We have differences of opinion on many things but on this we are absolutely united. Politicians are entering a danger zone - they have seriously underestimated the importance of FE and the passion of people who work in the sector.

"This is the sector standing up and telling everyone what it is worth, what it gives back to the country and why these cuts are not an option. It's not just the signatures but the messages people are leaving that really show how people feel."

Desperate times

The cuts were first announced in a letter from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in February. It said that funding through the Skills Funding Agency for adult skills in the 2015-16 academic year would be reduced by more than pound;249 million - an 11 per cent cut on 2014-15.

However, the SFA has set an apprenticeships budget of pound;770 million and, in its own letter in response to BIS, it estimates that funds available for other non-apprenticeship adult skills would be reduced by 24 per cent as a result.

The campaign to prevent these cuts is aimed at all political parties. Although shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has pledged a "better deal for adult FE", he has not laid out any specific funding plans.

Last month, the Association of Colleges warned that adult education and training in England could cease to exist within five years if funding cuts continued. It estimated that 190,000 adult learning places could be lost in the next year alone.

Martin Doel, chief executive of the AoC, said the speed at which the petition had grown was "reassuring and inspiring".

"I can't remember a petition growing this quickly," he added. "I shouldn't be surprised, because we know what a difference FE and adult education can make to people's lives.

"This is the first time we [in the FE sector] have all been on the barricades together in such a public way. The challenge now is drawing attention to this type of education to policymakers across the political spectrum. This petition shows they underestimated the strength of feeling in the sector and among those it serves."

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group of colleges, said: "I think the amount of signatures shows the strength of feeling in the sector and the extent of the difficulty and depth of the cuts. It's good that people are expressing their anger and their resistance."

But David Hughes, chief executive of adult education body Niace, said he was "sceptical" as to whether the petition would make a difference. "I'm really pleased it's got that type of response, but if you are a politician you are probably not going to be swayed by that," he added.

"I'm sceptical. The future is bleak. The spending review will be tough whoever gets in power. Adult education is not fully understood or appreciated across government and my fear is that the next government will be looking at more cuts rather than reviewing those already agreed."

Protest vote: comments from the petition

Sally Hunt

UCU general secretary

"This latest announcement is an act of wilful vandalism that will decimate further education as we know it today."

Claire Gleeson

City of Wolverhampton College

"These cuts will have a massive impact on the ability to provide the required provision for adult learners within our area, which will result in a negative impact on the community we serve."

Robert McGill

City Of Liverpool College

"FE is second-chance education and in my 35 years of teaching I've had the pleasure and privilege to see success as adults turn their lives around. This should not be taken away from future generations by the failing policy of austerity."

Kathryn Morrison

Colchester Institute

"Cuts this substantial will affect the education of all learners, as well as resulting in the loss of jobs for staff and increasing already significant pressure on remaining staff. We should be investing in the future of people who want to learn, not punishing those who try to provide this."


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