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Business & Economy

North East colleges welcome £400m funding boost to further education

North East colleges have collectively welcome a £400 million funding boost to further education, which is the single largest annual increase for the sector since 2010.

The announcement, comes after extensive campaigning by the Association of Colleges (AoC) and the sector, culminating in the national Love Our Colleges campaign in May this year. The week-long campaign saw governors from colleges across the North East host events and speak to their local MPs, staff, students and local business partners to demonstrate why the Chancellor should ensure sustainable investment of colleges in his Comprehensive Spending Review.

The funding for further education and sixth forms is for one year only (2020/21), and though it marks significant investment in further education for more than ten years, it is the first step in a much longer journey towards longer-term and sustainable investment for the sector.

Rob Lawson, chair of governors for Education Partnership North East, said: “Further education colleges are pivotal to our society and the economy. They help business productivity, drive economic growth and are committed to the communities they serve.

“As chair of the board since 2013, I have witnessed first-hand the positive impact education plays in transforming people’s lives by equipping them with the qualifications and skills they need to fulfil their career ambitions and contribute to the wider economy.

“During Love our Colleges week, we joined with our sector colleagues to highlight the excellent work colleges across the North East do and to ensure further education colleges receive the recognition and support from national government that they deserve.

“The funding, though welcome, is still not enough to reverse the 30 per cent funding cuts colleges have undergone over the last decade. Falling investment in skills-based education puts colleges at a disadvantage in comparison to our European counterparts, hindering the effort to equip people with the skills employers need and the economy demands.”

Colleges deliver high-quality education and training to 2.2 million people each year. Through high-class professional and technical education, colleges provide students of all ages and backgrounds with valuable employability skills to enable them to develop their career opportunities, progress to university, achieve their ambitions, and fundamentally enrich people’s lives.

Helen Golightly, Chief Executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, added: “Improving skills in the North East is vital if want to strengthen our economy and see more people in senior, professional or technical roles.

“This new funding from government will support our further education sector to deliver high-quality training and education, as well as give students of all ages more opportunities to gain higher-level skills and qualifications.”

Colleges Week 2019 is taking place from 14 to 18 October and calls for better and long-term investment and recognition of the role further education colleges and sixth forms play in shaping communities and bolstering the economy, and includes continued campaigning to highlight the positive impact of further education as well as the challenges still faced by the sector.

In a response to the Chancellor, Sajid Javid’s announcement, David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “Colleges have been overlooked and underfunded for far too long. The announcement of an additional £400 million marks the first meaningful investment in further education for 16 to 19-year-olds for more than ten years. It’s not enough to reverse the decade of cuts, nor to properly stabilise the sector for the future, but it is a good start.

“I am delighted that the government has listened to college leaders, college staff, MPs, businesses, students and stakeholders, all of whom have made it clear that they want more investment in colleges. The announcement will start to invest more in our young people with a long-overdue increase in the base funding rate for 16- and 17-year-olds. This will help support the world-class education and training which colleges provide to help our young people to succeed.”

The Love Our Colleges campaign is a partnership between Association of Colleges (AoC), National Union of Students (NUS), Association of College and School Leaders (ASCL), University and Colleges Union (UCU), Unison, GMB, TUC and National Education Union (NEU).