Snobbery Against Colleges As Higher Education Institutions Must End

Colleges continue to be crucial in driving social mobility and providing the skills necessary to boost local and regional economies, Gill Furniss MP writes.

As students discovered their GCSE and A-level grades this month, there was one results day that you might have missed. While the BTEC results day received more coverage than normal this year – featuring on the BBC and other news outlets – the event is still far less celebrated than other exams, despite it being just as important for our young people.

In my early career, I worked in a construction FE College and later worked at the Sheffield College. I have seen first-hand the importance of these institutions. I am also deeply passionate about the opportunities that further education offers for our young people.

Colleges like Sheffield College continue to be crucial in driving social mobility and providing the skills necessary to boost local and regional economies. They offer a place to provide qualifications and skills to meet the demands of the city’s growing economy through high quality education and technical training.

The young people who may be studying in the locality that they live in are the nurses, the bricklayers, the hairdressers, the secretaries, the engineers, the care workers, the police officers of the future.

Many go onto university and bring the hands-on experience they have gained to further studies. Others will establish their own businesses. All of these will bring an important boost to our economy and tax base.

Further education is supremely adaptable to the changes in our society and already offers comprehensive technical courses. Building skills which will be invaluable for the next industrial revolution if we are to be successful and competitive in area such as Artificial intelligence.

Indeed, a post-Brexit Britain will require a strategy to teach, skill and re-skill our population to fill in roles in hospitality, in manufacturing, engineering, care and other vital sectors.

Vocational training is vital for our young people and should be at the heart of our communities.

Unfortunately, this government has failed to support the work of the FE sector.

Further Education – disproportionately made up of working-class students, has, predictably and depressingly, fared worst and the outcomes are telling.

In the last ten years, total enrolments for adults dropped from 5.1m to 1.9m. A drop of 62%.

Cuts to the adult education budget mean that there are less people skilled in professions vital for economic success now and in the future.

Since 2010 we have seen the resources for Further Education plummet. A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that since 2010 funding per student aged 16-18 in further education has fallen by 8% in real terms and is now at the same level as during the late 2000’s.

The funding squeeze is also certainly impacting morale for staff at colleges, too.

College lecturers are now paid on average less than 80% the rate of school staff.

Association of College’s latest workforce survey suggests that average lecturer pay in colleges is £30,100 which is significantly less than average school teacher pay and average university academic pay.

This snobbery against colleges must end and a new dawn for colleges must break, recognizing their true importance to our communities and local economies.

The new Prime Minister has been on a recent spending splurge – I hope he will put his money where his mouth is and support the vital services our colleges and other further education institutions offer across the country.

Gill Furniss is the MP for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough and Shadow Business Minister


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