Finally, the UK has scored a massive success in Europe. Nothing to do with Brexit, mind you – it was EuroSkills 2018, where Team UK achieved its aim of a top 10 finish, coming in ninth.
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, was there in Budapest to see the team excel. And while he revelled in the skills excellence, he says that it led to him worrying about the future. While politicians are excited about the potential of lifelong learning and skills to help young people and adults achieve their ambitions, “when it comes to Treasury decisions about priorities, we know that colleges and technical education have come behind schools and universities time and again in the last decade”.
And, Hughes adds, while our young people got the best of many other nations at EuroSkills, they aren’t able to get the best when they get back to the UK. “Our young people are benefitting from around 15 hours per week teaching and support, with their OECD peers getting between 25 and 30 hours. That’s a substantial and unjustifiable gap.”
So, what can be done to close that gap? Ian Pryce, chief executive of Bedford College, has an idea – and stop us if you’ve heard this one before: GIVE FE MORE MONEY. And not just more money, either: better targeting of funds. At the moment, he says, the sector is “stitched up”, and cash is often given to colleges as a bail-out, rather than as funding.
“Money that could, and should go to colleges doing the right things and managing themselves well is instead diverted to those doing a bad job.”
So, a sector in financial dire straits, but one that is still able to shine on the world stage. While that’s a silver lining to this particular cloud, as Hughes puts it: “Just think how much more we could do with fair funding for colleges and technical education.”