Post-19 skills education could ‘vanish into history’, expert warns

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
#loveFE: (from left) Megan Dunn (National Union of Students), Martin Doel (Association of Colleges), Sally Hunt (University and College Union), Mark Baker (Association of Teachers and Lecturers), David Hughes (National Institute of Adult Continuing Educat

A petition against plans to cut adult education funding by 24 per cent has been delivered to 10 Downing Street.

Signed by 42,555 people, it is part of the #loveFE campaign that is being supported by a number of unions and education organisations.

The campaign group was created in February following the government’s announcement that funding for non-Apprenticeship learning in England would be cut by up to 24 per cent in 2015/16.

It comes after a paper by Professor Alison Wolf, the expert who the government commissioned to review vocational education in 2011, warned that the adult skills sector, not including Apprenticeships, is being squeezed at such a rate that it may “vanish into history”.

The report – Heading for the Precipice: Can further and higher education funding policies be sustained? – was published last week by the Policy Institute at King’s College London with support from the Gatsby Foundation.

In it, Prof Wolf questions a system that values “all and any increases in university enrolments and in higher education participation” and does not prioritise the adult skills sector.

She warns that as the gap expands between further and higher education funding, student demand will move into the university sector and drive technical education out of further education colleges, which she says are best placed and most suited to delivering it.

The report states: “The current situation is financially unsustainable. It is deeply inegalitarian in its allocation of resources. It is also inefficient and bad for the ‘human capital development’, which increasingly drives and justifies education policy.

“In post-19 education, we are producing vanishingly small numbers of higher technician level qualifications, while massively increasing the output of generalist bachelor degrees and low-level vocational qualifications.

“We are doing so because of the financial incentives and administrative structures that governments themselves have created, not because of labour market demand, and the imbalance looks set to worsen yet further. We therefore need, as a matter of urgency, to start thinking about post-19 funding and provision in a far more integrated way.”

The paper argues that the government’s commitment to creating three million Apprenticeships is “largely unfunded” and urges ministers to prioritise high-quality Apprenticeships over numerical targets. It also warns that the number of skilled Level 3 qualifications achieved has fallen between 2012/13 and 2013/14 and currently less than five per cent of the quality Apprenticeships being created are in engineering, manufacturing technologies or science – and only one per cent are in ICT.

Launching her paper, Prof Wolf said: “We should all be extremely concerned about our increasingly inefficient and inegalitarian system of funding post-19 education. Our future productivity and prosperity are at risk if we don’t address the on-going erosion of provision outside the universities.”

General secretary of the University and College Union, Sally Hunt, said the report was “a timely reminder to ministers” about the vital role further education institutions had to play for the economy.

She continued: “The government must act now to protect education funding for adults or risk massive damage to our country’s future prosperity, as well as the loss of individual life chances. The further education sector provides the skills the country needs and to make further cuts at this time risks cutting off that vital supply of skilled workers.”

Meanwhile, the petition was delivered to prime minister David Cameron on Friday (June 26). Among those visiting Downing Street was Mark Baker, president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

He said: “Further education has already been battered by excessive cuts, and these further budget reductions look like nothing less than a deliberate attempt to destroy the sector. The government should get its priorities right and help young adults to get into work. Under these proposals 400,000 learners will lose out.

“With these cuts, how can the sector possibly continue to provide vital education and training for adults in order to meet the needs for the workforce and boost the economy?”

For more on the campaign, visit

To download Prof Wolf’s paper, go to


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