Mark Keating, a lecturer in a London college, discusses the cuts that are hitting the further education sector hard
The Tories delivered another body blow to the further education (FE) sector when they announced swingeing 24% cuts to the Adult Education budget at the end of February. This kind of cut would have been greeted by outrage across the media if it had been aimed at schools or higher education – and would have been an election loser – but it was barely noticed because it hits FE, a sector that few politicians or media types know or care about.
FE colleges and their staff across Britain have given second chances to working class and black and ethnic minority people who the school system has failed, helped immigrants learn English and become part of society, enabled adults to learn throughout life, delivered much needed vocational courses. Now all of that, and much more, is under threat.
This year’s cut means that adult funding has suffered a 50% reduction in five years, with the loss of one million places at colleges, with 400,000 more to come. Opportunities for working people will be lost, as will huge numbers of jobs at colleges that are already struggling.
This is an existential threat to FE, a fact recognised by the employers’ Association of Colleges body which fears that there will be little left of the sector in five years. FE is caught in a vice, being turned tighter, reducing its size and making it liable to shatter into pieces.
Staff and students will need to fight to defend this vital education sector. The unions, alongside the employers have launched a petition that had received over 8,000 signatures at the time of writing.
London Region UCU, the lecturers’ union, has organised two important protests in the next few weeks. The first is a lobby of parliament from 1-5pm on Wednesday 18 March, which some college managements have agreed staff can attend, showing the seriousness of the situation. The second is a march from City Lit College in central London to Downing Street to hand in the petition at 6pm on Wednesday 25 March. The bigger these protests are the more pressure will be placed on politicians in the run-up to the general election.
But this will only be the beginning of an urgent and much needed campaign to defend FE that should see strikes against a wave of redundancies, which will be the first visible sign of the Tories callous and ruthless treatment of an education system that ordinary members of society rely on.