Courses to close in college funding crisis

A funding crisis in further education colleges could see courses closed and thousands of teachers losing their posts, a union warned today.

The University and College Union (UCU) warned that some colleges were losing as much as a quarter of their adult learning budgets and may be forced to turn away hundreds of would-be students in courses such as bricklaying, care work and catering.

The Government insisted overall budgets for adult skills were rising by 2.9%, but further education minister Kevin Brennan acknowledged that a "change in priorities" was under way to ensure FE colleges respond to the needs of employers.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Already we are dealing with the fall-out from the cuts announced last year, when we were dealing with millions of pounds being trimmed from the budget.

"What we are dealing with now are cuts where employers across the country are estimating they are going to get at least a 25% cut in adult learning budgets.

"What that means in real terms is fewer places for students and limitations on the number of courses coming through.

"There is no way that this can be defended as efficiency gains. These are cuts."

Ms Hunt said the cutbacks would affect school-leavers hoping to start themselves off in a career as well as older adults wanting to retrain and gain new skills after losing their jobs.

"We are talking about 19-year-olds and upwards who are trying to make decisions about their lives. We are talking about adults throughout their working lives who are needing to retrain and reskill," she said.

"These are the people who are not going to be able to get a place. I'm talking about things like bricklaying, joinery, electrical installation, catering, care work, security."

Ms Hunt said it was difficult to say precisely how many students would be affected, but up to 7,000 teachers could lose their posts.

"We are going to see a scaling-down of the workforce," she said.

Mr Brennan told Today: "Overall, the budget for adult skills next year is going up by 2.9%, not being cut.

"There is a change of priorities - I accept that - to try to make sure the FE system is focused on the skills that will produce growth in the future."

While "employer-responsive funding" was not being reduced, there would be cuts in "adult learner-responsive funding", which makes up 20% of the total budget, he said.

"Transformation like that can be difficult, but nevertheless we have to prioritise," said Mr Brennan.

"People will understand you must put your resources into those areas that will lead to future growth in the economy. They must be courses where there is employer demand in the area."