Colleges Week 2021: Why it’s time to champion colleges

This week, we’re proud to be joining colleges up and down the country to champion the brilliant things that further education students and staff achieve day in, day out.

Colleges Week 2021 showcases how colleges transform lives through learning, inspire students to go further in their careers, support businesses and build communities.

Nationally, according to the Association of Colleges, colleges in England educate and train 2.2 million young people and adults. This year’s campaign theme for Colleges Week, which runs from October 18th to 22nd, is ‘Get in, go further’.

FE colleges offer young people, adult learners and employers the chance to ‘get in and go further’ through experiencing amazing learning opportunities and the opportunity to develop new skills, up-skill and realise their potential.

Our college community of around 14,000 students a year is incredibly diverse and benefits from a broad curriculum offer that includes apprenticeships, vocational diplomas, A Levels, access courses, and foundation and honours degrees.

In 2019/20, 95% of our study programme students, 84% of our adult learners and 100% of our apprentices progressed to a positive destination whether employment or further study.

Now more than ever, we need a highly skilled and well-educated workforce to deliver on a skills-led pandemic economic recovery and to address the major global issues of our time such as climate change, cybersecurity, sustainability and health and social care, to name but a few.

Colleges hold the key to addressing these challenges. They contribute to reducing skills gaps, improving social mobility, combatting inequality and providing better opportunities to local communities including the disadvantaged.

Whilst I welcome the government’s recognition that the FE sector plays a pivotal role in helping people to get skills for good jobs both now and in the future, the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, that is currently going through Parliament, needs to go further with increased funding and a strengthening of the legislation.

Ahead of the Spending Review 2021, we are lobbying for long-term investment and stability to be a priority if the government is to ‘level up’ all areas of the country. Any legislative reforms must come with a commitment to invest in our sector and to ensure we are sustainable in the long term.

It has been estimated, by the Assocation of Colleges, that our sector will need a £4.6 billion cash injection during the next three years to support the delivery of the government’s Skills and Post-16 Education Bill agenda, and to focus on immediate skills shortages and support business growth, enhance technical education for young people and accelerate the development of green skills.

Adult education funding is woefully poor. Historic underfunding must be addressed. Adult learners should be a high priority so that they can re-train as part of the pandemic skills-led recovery. If we are to transform productivity, then parity across sectors is essential following a decade of funding cuts.

We need a maintenance system that supports people to live well whilst they study and this should apply equally to further education as it does to higher education.

Benefit reforms must support unemployed people to study and gain skills whilst not losing access to benefits which help them to live well – this shouldn’t be a disincentive.

The government’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee should be a statutory entitlement and include access to higher education programmes that unlock potential.

Currently, the Equivalent or Lower Qualification rule has the opposite effect. The rule stops anyone with a Level 4 qualification or higher from accessing public funding to study another course at an equivalent or lower level.

This creates barriers through a lack of public funding and denies learners the opportunity to up-skill and go further in a new career where skills are in demand.

For example, we might see adults who are keen to re-train in construction, digital or engineering, and who would have to take out a loan to up-skill, without having access to maintenance funds or loans which are available to students in other sectors.

We need an education and skills strategy that stabilises our sector and offers people the chance to access education and training routinely in pursuit of jobs, better jobs and improved life chances.

We want to play an even greater part in our great city, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to ‘get in and go further’ through amazing education and skills opportunities.

You can show your appreciation for Colleges Week #LoveOurColleges and #CollegesWeek @SheffCol @AoC_Info.