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Friday, February 27, 2009

Neglecting further education

I spent much of today visiting Further Education Colleges in my region so that I could discuss the impact of Welsh Government cuts on them.

Despite the fact that the Government's Education Department received a 5.5% uplift in its funding in the next financial year they have delivered a cut in the money they are putting into further education. There is in fact £3 million less to spend on this service in 2009-2010 than is available this year.

As a result Bridgend College is having to cut £1 million from its £25 million budget, Swansea College is facing an unprecedented cut in core funding of 7.5 per cent, Neath Port Talbot College faces an equally serious cut of 5.5 per cent while Coleg Sir Gâr faces a cut of 6.92 per cent.

Everyone accepts that financial times are tight, but in the case of further education, the settlement must be viewed in an overall context. The pay parity deal of last year has put extra pressures on further education, which is something that further education has understood and shown it is willing to deal with in a fair way. However, just to maintain pay parity, further education would have to dish out almost £7 million extra in 2008-09 to fund an inflationary rise, that is if inflation remains low.

It is astonishing that when everyone accepts that we need to upskill the workforce, deal with the recession through diversification and increase provision for on-the-job training, Labour and Plaid Cymru are slashing budgets for the institutions that are best placed to deal with these matters.

What is worse is that colleges still do not have all the information they need to set their budgets next year. They have been told how much money they have but not the targets they need to meet. Thus they cannot plan their courses and do not know which staff if any they may need to make redundant.

The Government argue that FE Colleges will benefit from the £48 million Proact scheme, designed to keep people in work by subsidising their wages whilst offering them training. The problem is that only half of this money will go towards training, the rest will be used to pay wages, and of that £24 million it is likely that only about 10% will find its way towards colleges. That money will not replace core funding as there will be costs in delivering that training with the result that colleges face real-term cuts.

Even the Government's apprenticeship scheme looks to be inadequate to fill the gap. It is rumoured that the fund of £20 million for this programme will actually turn out to be £10 millon whilst again the money is unlikely to replace lost core funding.

Once more this is a matter of wrong-headed Government priorities removing opportunities for the vulnerable and undermining their own efforts to help people through poor economic times. Ironically, the government is putting on a debate on Tuesday in which they claim to be leading Wales out of the recession. Not on this evidence they are not.
Shocking! Quite Shocking!

And......thank you Peter for highlighting this.

Cracking post!
Well Peter, a few tens of millions here and there soon adds up. The government would rather prop-up failing banks than invest in the education of future generations.
I don't know but I noticed from the assembly budget that they have cut over a 100 million quid of it. Is that correct?
I couldn't agree more. The displacement of funds in the FE sector is causing a crisis and compromising each institutions ability to support and retrain aadult learners finding themselves unemployed in the current economic downturn. All education sectors are pressured by challenges to meet standards and support studenst on limited funds, but this current funding climate seems to be spectatularly shortsighted and not in line with intelligence of the shift in the economic well being of the country. The funding shift is not only against the spirit of the education papers that claim to support Wales cultural development and economic growth by investing in all education sectors. It's so very disappointing and hits the very people we don't want it to - the potential students of all ages that want to learn and retrain. A considerable rethink is required and for heavens sake a discussion with educational insitutions to move forward.
Totally agree, the WAG has let us down!
We are protesting campus wide at coleg sir gar tomorrow. 89 job cuts alone from our college, 62 of which are lecturing posts.
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