Further education sector unites against government plans to slash funding for 18 year-old students

A number of organisations have added their voices to calls for the government to rethink plans to slash funding for 18 year-olds studying in further education colleges from next year.

From next year, 18 year-old students in England will see their funding slashed by 17.5%. The move, as part of George Osborne’s Autumn Statement, has been criticised by the union and groups representing colleges, including the Association of Colleges and the 157 Group.

This latest cut, as the compulsory education age goes up to 18, is bad news for students and bad news for colleges. Young college students are already suffering from the withdrawal of targeted financial support through the education maintenance allowance (EMA).

Across England, the move is expected to hit around 100,000 young people, which will vary college by college. UCU says the students who most need the support are the very ones who will be hit hardest by the changes. Some colleges will have less funding based on when their students’ birthdays are.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘Colleges working with young people who have been failed by the school system will be hit hardest by this cut, as more 18-year-olds study in our colleges than schools.

‘The fact that the further education sector is united in calls for a rethink exposes just how ill-thought through this policy is. The government has made a hash of recent key policies for students in post-16 education. It needs to urgently rethink this move to avoid another disaster.’

AoC Chief Executive Martin Doel is urging Government to reconsider the funding cut or, at the very least, carry out a full impact assessment: ‘Our initial analysis is clear that, with more 18-year-olds studying in colleges than in schools, colleges will bear the brunt of this cut to the tune of approximately £100 million. Sixth form colleges, some of the best-performing education institutions in England, could be worst affected and London colleges may be disproportionally hit as 25% of their full-time students are 18.

‘Government is calling on our members to provide high-quality vocational education to meet local and national employment needs, yet this announcement will see further education colleges struggle to deliver these vital courses and undermine government intentions. Colleges are being pressed to breaking point with this cut compounding prior cuts to entitlement funding and in relation to short courses and to adult funding.’

The 157 Group has written to the skills minister, Matthew Hancock MP, and the education minister, David Laws MP, urging a rethink on the announcement.

Lynne Sedgmore CBE, executive director of the 157 Group, said: ‘As far as I am aware, there was no consultation about this proposal and no formal impact assessment on access, equality and diversity. Had we been consulted, we would have been able to point out some of the unintended consequences of the move, which threatens to vitiate some of the successful policy initiatives of the coalition.’

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