ADULT EDUCATION UNDER ATTACK– funding crisis means sackings and course closures, warns UNISON

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Lower than expected college funding poses a severe threat to adult education and those who provide it, warns the latest edition of public sector union, UNISON’s U magazine.

It says: ‘A funding crisis in further education is undermining the government’s once impressive agenda on adult learning – with the potential loss of 200,000 places on adult learning courses across the UK.

‘The savage cost-cutting exercise currently under way is already having a two-pronged effect on many UNISON members, who are at risk of losing their jobs and, as adult learners, of having their courses taken away from them.

‘Redundancies, cancelled courses or raised fees are in prospect at numerous FE colleges dealing with lower-than-expected funding allocations.

‘And with an emphasis on provision for 14-19 year olds, the courses under the cosh – deemed “non-essential” – are primarily those aimed at adult learners.’

The article lists a number of colleges affected:

‘At Hackney Community College, three members of learning support staff have been made redundant during the summer break.

‘The British Sign Language course was under threat but has been reprieved, although the cost of delivering it is going to be significantly higher.

‘Norwich City College faces losing 1,000 adult learning places across 50 courses, with no evening or GCSE or A level provision, all language courses have been cut while fees for deaf studies have increased.

‘Croydon College faces up to 99 redundancies and significant cuts to adult learning.

‘At Darlington College of Technology, 40 posts have been lost under voluntary severance.

‘Eight redundancies are planned at St Helens College.

‘Calderdale College in West Yorkshire has 12 support staff and 20 teaching staff under threat.

‘City College Manchester has seen 21 compulsory redundancies, with more promised for the autumn, due to a shortfall in expected funding of £1.2m.

‘At Wigan and Leigh College, there is a threat to learning in the prison service;

‘British Sign Language courses are also under threat at Barnet College and Harrow College.’

The article continues: ‘As the main union for support staff working in further education, UNISON has condemned the cuts as “flying in the face” of the government’s own learning and skills agenda.

‘A motion at the union’s national delegate conference in June described the Learning and Skills Council as an “archetypal quango” with too little accountability in how it spends its £9 billion budget.

‘The union – whose members in the sector include technicians, caretakers, finance staff, security, nursery nurses and learning support staff – is urging its branches to lobby their MPs in a bid to reverse the government’s new stance on adult learners.’

UNISON assistant national officer Denise Bertuchi says: ‘There are a lot of redundancies taking place, with colleges saying that they have no choice and the funding is just not there.

‘We are also concerned about the impact this will have on the community and the quality of life for adult learners.

‘Further education covers such a wide area: anything from vocational training leading to NVQs to British Sign Language training, from computer and internet training to classes provided to prisoners – essentially, all adult learning, not specifically aimed at 16-18 year olds.

‘For example, further education classes are a very enriching part of the life of the elderly population – they enjoy it, it gives them a sense of purpose and achievement.

‘But those courses will be the first to face the axe, because they are regarded as “hobby” courses. And the loss of those courses really could have a long-term impact on mental health.’

The magazine continues: ‘Bertuchi’s belief that the government is contradicting its original aspirations for adult learning is reflected in a parliamentary briefing from the Association of Colleges.

‘This notes that the government declared a strong commitment to adult learning and skills in its very first year of office and launched a reform programme in 1999, which created learning and skills councils to take charge of its policies for post-16 education.

‘But now, the association says, “the government’s five-year strategy for children and learners makes it clear that the DfES has much higher priorities than adult learning for the rest of this decade.”

‘Those “higher priorities” are school reform, universities and childcare.

‘And, its briefing adds, government funding for courses that do not meet those national priorities is being cut, even such courses contribute to local needs.

‘This clash of priorities was given a somewhat comic confirmation when the national Learning and Skills Council blamed the funding shortfall on none other than Jamie Oliver, suggesting that extra funding for school meals and other school initiatives had left little scope for extra spending elsewhere.

‘While this sounds like passing the buck, Bertuchi does have sympathy for the college principals themselves.’

She says: ‘Funding has always been unstable in further education, and the methodology is labyrinthine.

‘Bidding for allocations is quite a dogfight.

‘Each college principal is faced with what the government and the council call a “priority challenge”.

‘Which means they have to continue to deliver the training essential to the 14-19 agenda, while cutting all the non-essential, the non-core training, which involves a lot of the adult learning.’

Bertuchi adds: ‘This crisis was predicted more than a year ago.

‘Lobbies to Parliament in May 2004 and March 2005 warned of shortfalls.

‘Even then, the allocations to colleges for 2005/06 were much less than expected.’

The article concludes: ‘UNISON is working with other unions, the TUC and the Association of Colleges in lobbying the government about the funding crisis and its effects.

‘Members are urged to sign the online petition at AOC Fair Funding Campaign and to write to their MPs.’

UNISON members have told News Line that they are frustrated that the campaign is being kept to the level of petitions when it is obvious that Blair doesn’t listen.

They are demanding that UNISON organise action to defend their jobs, pay and conditions as well as a vital education service.