Time for storm of protest to be a little less private

Thu 20 Feb 2014

Time for “storm of protest” to be a little less private

There has been a storm of protest over government plans to cut education funding for eighteen year olds.  No really; there has.  It’s just been a very quiet, polite and behind-the-scenes kind of storm, but now the volume must be raised.
A month ago, Education Secretary Michael Gove announced a 17.5% reduction in education funding for 150,000 eighteen year olds of whom two thirds attend FE Colleges.  This will mean approximately £3,200 per head being available to give these young people the start in life they need to become happy, employable and productive.  That’s forty percent less than that invested in a young person taking GCSEs and sixty per cent below the budget for a university student.  The problem from our perspective is that many of those affected are among the people who are fighting really hard to find a place on the employment ladder after missing out on achieving their goals at school or in sixth form.  Over 50% of the young people we work with come to us with no qualifications in English and Maths and rather than this group needing less support over time, they typically require more. We all know that the public purse is shrinking but as the cuts bite further and further into those areas not protected by ring-fencing; the cuts do now seem to be disproportionally impacting some areas rather than others.  This funding cut will mean that for Milton Keynes College 550 of our most disadvantaged students will have half a million pounds less spent on their education and training. That’s half a million pounds less coming in to Milton Keynes to support the skills development we need to grow our economy
College Principals have our own internal email network to talk to each other and the person who runs it says they have never seen so much traffic on one subject before.  All over the country we’ve been in touch with our MPs and there have been many expressions of support.   I’ve contacted our own Mark Lancaster and Iain Stewart and I have no doubt I will be able to count on both of them to fight our corner as best they can. 
The big problem is time.  The changes will come into effect in September.  Strangely, even though the decision to make these cuts has already been made the evidence used by government to make it isn’t actually ready to be published.  All we know is that it’s coming “soon.”  It’s vital that this is released as quickly as possible because it’s hard to make a case against something when you don’t know the arguments being used for it. 
The Association of Colleges (AoC) is privately talking to ministers.  The National Union of Students (NUS) is voicing its members’ concerns.  The Education Secretary himself has made it clear to MPs that he found the decision to make these cuts “uncomfortable,” but he had to cut something somewhere and this seemed like the best option.
It’s entirely predictable that those of us working inside the sector will be dismayed as nobody welcomes a cut to their budgets.  What really matters now is for people outside to make their feelings known.  Current and former students who have benefitted directly from FE courses and ones intending to join this year; parents who want the best possible start in life for their children; employers who depend on us to provide people with the right skills and knowledge to work for them.  All of you have a stake in Milton Keynes College and its future success.  If you think it matters, write a letter, send an email, compose a tweet, but please, don’t leave it too long.  September will be with us in no time.  Just think what we could be losing.

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