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Union questions funding priorities

Cutting courses for the very adults who fill most jobs is 'ridiculous' says Mackney. Steve Hook reports

Union chief Paul Mackney lambasted the Government for "short-termism" after FE Focus revealed the extent of the funding crisis affecting courses for adults.

The general secretary of Natfhe, the lecturers' union, told its annual conference in Eastbourne last weekend that the Government is cutting courses that will prepare adults to do the jobs of the future.

An FE Focus survey revealed there will be widespread job-losses and an estimated 200,000 adults are predicted to be deprived of places as a result of funding cuts by local Learning and Skills Council offices.

Mr Mackney said: "Cuts in adult education funding, which may lead to job losses in half of FE colleges, and the failure to support part-time learners are other examples of the inability of some policy-makers to understand the needs of diverse learners.

"The day after election night, principals had letters from the LSC requiring cuts in 2005-6 that a TES survey predicts will result in job losses in half of the colleges. And that's before the college funding for 2006-7, which the Association of Colleges has predicted is 'a disaster waiting to happen'.

"With ridiculous short-termism, LSC priorities are diverting cash away from courses for adults above level 2 (equivalent to GCSE grade A*-C) when we know that two out of three vacancies will be filled by adults in the next 10 years and that most of these require skills above level 2."

Darlington College of Technology expects to lose 40 lecturers and up to 1,300 student places as it prepares to wield the axe in a move it says has been forced upon it by lack of LSC funding.

In a letter to staff, the governors and principal Sarah Farley admitted thay are "appalled" by next academic year's funding allocation from the LSC. It adds: "We are engaged in detailed discussions with the local LSC regarding a reduction in student numbers and programme delivery for next year.

"We cannot avoid making some staffing reductions across the college."

Bill Rammell, the further and higher education minister, said: "I know that many colleges will be facing some difficult decisions this year.

"But it is only right that they should focus on the needs of priority learners: young people; adults lacking literacy or numeracy skills; and those without a Level 2 qualification.

"These are the people who will suffer most if they don't get the training they need."

The Government is expected to stand firm in its insistence that colleges will have to use their limited resources on high-priority students but the secondary effect of the funding squeeze - on lecturers' pay - is expected to cause more problems for ministers.

Already, there have been rumours that a 1 per cent pay offer will be the best colleges can make in the negotiations for the 20005-6 pay deal - an offer which could spark the biggest walk-out since colleges became independent in 1993.

Lecturers in many colleges are already fighting for implementation of the last pay deal - a 3 per cent increase and a new national pay scale, together worth around 8 per cent.

Mr Mackney told the conference: "I have told Bill Rammell that, unless the Government intervenes to ensure that new national pay scales are paid in every college, there will be a national strike in colleges."

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