In a move coordinated by Oldham College, the leaders of 203 general further education colleges in England have joined forces to lobby the Chancellor and Secretary of State for Education to support and fund radical changes to post -18 education and funding.
Published a month ago, Philip Augar’s review of the higher and further education systems called for a rebalancing between the two. It argues that generous funding for higher education has contrasted with the neglect of alternative ways of acquiring degree and degree level qualifications. It recommends an end to the 17.5% cut in education funding for 16-18 year olds, better funding for adult learners and a range of measures to strengthen further education with investment in facilities and staff.
The fact that over 200 colleges across the country have supported the initiative shows the strength of feeling about the issue. It is an unprecedented measure from every college leader in the country with all nine further education colleges in Greater Manchester, covering all ten boroughs, giving it unanimous support.
Alun Francis, Principal and Chief Executive of Oldham College, who coordinated the initiative said: “This country has become overly focussed on the residential three year degree as the only route to highly skilled employment. The Augar Review sets out the need for much more sophisticated alternatives, delivered locally through further education colleges. We have been working for some time to build the foundations of a strong system of technical and professional education and training in Oldham. Our excellent Ofsted, the investment in facilities, including the new £9m construction centre, the introduction of T-Levels and the amazing Silver TEF award, which University Campus Oldham has achieved in the higher education quality assessment exercise, are all part of this plan. The Augar Review promises to unlock the investment strategy and the vision, which can take Oldham to another level nationally and locally. If this Review is funded and implemented it could change the life chances of Oldham residents for a generation.”
Councillor Sean Fielding said: “As the Greater Manchester political lead on Employment and Skills policy, I support the call for sufficient funding for the further education sector. In Greater Manchester and in Oldham we are seeing colleges deliver some extremely good and important work, but it is within a funding system that is inadequate. The potential of a well-resourced and properly funded further education sector is enormous and we need to see a real commitment to making this happen. I am personally pleased that all the Greater Manchester colleges have worked together on this and that Oldham College has taken such a prominent role nationally.”
Greater Manchester colleges each deliver a variety of courses, including 16-18 programmes, adult courses, apprenticeships and higher education. Their collective provision contributes over £500m to the Greater Manchester economy and includes:
Lisa O’Loughlin, Principal, The Manchester College and Chair of Greater Manchester Colleges Group, said: “Many believe this Review is a landmark moment for the skills system, because it looks at higher education and further education together. We need more flexible, local and affordable routes for people to acquire high skills in areas relevant to the economy and this Review shows a way of delivering this. We are keen to see it implemented and resourced properly.”
Bev Robinson OBE, member of the Independent Panel and co-author of the Augar Review said: “The government’s response to the outcomes of the well-received Augar Review is arguably a watershed moment for the British government. Choosing to enact the recommendations would demonstrate the government’s commitment to the much-needed skills revolution which our country needs, which industry is crying out for and which will promote social equity for all adults, not just the 50% as it is now.”
David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges said: “Oldham College had done an amazing job in leading this nationally. It is extraordinary to have every leader in every general further education college in the country collaborate like this, but these are extraordinary times. These college leaders are uniquely placed at the hearts of their communities, working closely with local, national and international business, supporting individuals to get on in life, and driving the social mobility agenda. Government needs to listen to them if they’ve got any chance of tackling the major issues this country faces, now and in the future.”