FE cuts could make it harder for people to find jobs, government warned

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Written by Elizabeth Eyre on 17 January 2014 in News
News

NIACE believes that the government can reduce the deficit while still investing in adult learning

The government has been warned that cuts it is considering making to this year's further and higher education budgets will have a "disproportionate negative impact" on disadvantaged adult learners.

The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education has written to deputy prime minister Nick Clegg about its concern that cutting the 2014/15 FE and HE budgets in England would make it more difficult for disadvantaged adults to get jobs and stay in them.

NIACE CEO David Hughes said in the letter: "It might appear an easy cut to make, to apply savings to the FE budget, and in the short term the reaction to that decision and the 'noise' it generates might very well be easier to handle. However, the short- and medium-term impacts would be detrimental to social mobility, fairness and economic growth."

And he urged Clegg to ensure that any "necessary savings measures" are applied fairly across all government departments, not concentrated on the English FE and HE system.

Hughes' letter has been prompted by fears that the government could be considering making "significant" cuts to FE and HE budgets in England due to funding pressures at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which has responsibility for further and higher education as part of its skills remit. His organisation fears that any such cuts would have "a disproportionate negative impact on adult learners with the lowest levels of qualifications and from the most disadvantaged backgrounds".

He said: "In order to widen participation and improve social mobility, it is essential to retain a 'ladder of progression' from adult basic literacy and numeracy, through foundation learning, Level 2 and 3 skills (including apprenticeships) and Level 4 and higher education. Cuts in the past few years have put enormous strain on these progression routes and there have been worrying signs of the impacts already. Good examples of this include the drastic reduction in part-time adult HE learners and the failure of advanced-level learning loans to support apprenticeships for those aged 24 and over."

A report by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, published last March, showed there had been a drop of 40 per cent in the number of adults studying part-time in higher education since 2010 (http://www.hefce.ac.uk/news/newsarchive/2013/news78928.html). Government figures showed that, last year, just 404 people applied for the 24+ Advanced Learning Loans (which are about £4,000 and must be repaid once the recipient is earning £21,000) - its target had been 25,000.

NIACE believes that the government can reduce the deficit while still investing in adult learning, which, it says, enables disadvantaged adults to "learn to get into work, improve their skills to stay in work and gain higher skills to progress in work" .

Hughes says in his letter to Clegg that he understands there are tensions within BIS about how the required spending cuts can be made. He urges the deputy prime minister to ensure that savings are "applied in a way that is fair across all of the government's responsibilities" and asks for his support in ensuring that BIS does not concentrate its cuts on English further education and moves to widen people's participation in it, "both of which have done so much to offer opportunities to those young people and adults who were not best served by the school system".

When contacted by TJ about Hughes' letter, the Deputy Prime Minister's Office had no response and directed all enquiries to BIS. A BIS spokesman said: "The department is going through the process of allocating budgets for 2014-15 and 2015-16 and will set out plans in the usual way."

Hughes told TJ that NIACE had expected this response from BIS "as we know these important discussions are currently taking place". But he knew the issues he had raised in his letter were important to the government and NIACE was "looking forward to hearing the outcome of those discussions and hoping that our concerns will be addressed".

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