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Business & Economy

Students meet with Sunderland MPs to get support for campaign

16 students from Sunderland College led a debate with local MPs to highlight the importance of further education colleges for economic development and social prosperity, as part of the national Love our Colleges campaign.

The debate took place at the college’s City Campus with a panel consisting of Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West and Shadow Minister for Public Health; Bridget Phillipson, Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South; Julie Elliott, Labour MP for Sunderland Central; and Ellen Thinnesen, chief executive of Education Partnership North East (created through the recent merger of Sunderland College and Hartlepool Sixth Form with Northumberland College).

The Love our Colleges campaign calls on the government for better investment and fair pay and aims to demonstrate why the Chancellor should ensure meaningful and sustainable investment of colleges in his Comprehensive Spending Review.

Panel member Sharon Hodgson MP said: “It was a privilege to take part in the Love our Colleges debate recently with students, and hear their personal concerns about further education funding.

“At a time when there is a skills gap and a high number of vacancies, the government are continuing to cut funding for further education.

“In order to close this gap, the government must invest in further education so that everyone has the opportunity to learn and develop new skills that they can utilise in employment.”

The students aged 16 to 19, who are studying a range of academic and professional and technical courses at Sunderland College and Hartlepool Sixth Form, were given the opportunity to discuss with the panel how important colleges are in developing a strong workforce in the region, what the panel can you do to help ensure colleges receive the investment they need, the consequences of a lack of investment in colleges and the impact of austerity in the further education sector affecting the future workforce and creating skills shortages.

19-year-old Nathan Jones from Roker is studying Level 3 Extended Diploma IT at Sunderland College, and is a member of the Student Council.

He said: “I was really pleased to be involved in the event today as I am interested in the MPs’ opinion and how they could help to improve the situation for colleges. The Love our Colleges campaign is a great idea, as it is making more people aware of the issue with funding and why something should be done to help.

“Colleges are very important as they help to shape your next steps, provide students with a chance to explore what they want to be in the future and give them the opportunity to go back and study again if they want to. College transformed my life by helping me realise that sixth form wasn’t for me and that there were other routes I could take to achieve success.”

According to research by the Association of Colleges, colleges have suffered an average of a 30% cut in funding over the last decade, during which time costs have increased dramatically. This has had a detrimental impact onstudents, businesses, communities and the wider economy.

Colleges educate and train 2.2 million people every year. Through top-class professional and technical education, A-Levels, apprenticeships, higher education, basic skills or lifelong learning, colleges support people of all ages and backgrounds to fulfil their potential and achieve their ambitions.

Ellen Thinnesen, chief executive of Education Partnership North East, commented: “We were delighted for our students’ voices to be heard and to have the support of our local MPs during this vitally important campaign, which highlights the impact of further education colleges on our economies and communities.

“Further education colleges need to be able to respond to regional and national agendas and support central and local government to achieve its ambitions. However, a sufficient level of funding is required for colleges to provide a wide and responsive range of provision, lead innovation, drive forward skills agendas, build strong business partnerships and continue transforming lives and communities.”