SAVE FREE ENGLISH COURSES – brutal move to drive students out condemned

Young English language students with ‘Save Esol’ placards said they would be forced off courses if charges are imposed this autumn
Young English language students with ‘Save Esol’ placards said they would be forced off courses if charges are imposed this autumn

IMPOSSIBLE fees estimated at £1,500 a year will be imposed in September, if the government is allowed to go ahead with planned cuts in funding for English language courses, which are currently free.

People seeking asylum in Britain – who have been denied the right to work or to claim benefits – will now be denied the right to learn English and integrate, as the government is saying they must do.

That was the warning made outside parliament on Wednesday by members of the University and College Union (UCU).

Over 1,000 students and teachers of ESOL (English for Students of Other Languages) – supported by over 50 organisations – descended on the House of Commons to demand the government withdraws its attack.

In a vicious move, all asylum seekers aged 19 and over will no longer be automatically entitled to state-funded Further Education.

Existing universal entitlement to free ESOL training up to level 2 will be removed.

Fee remission will be available only to people receiving means-tested benefits and tax credits.

Vicky Skinner, Donald Mulcauley and Katherine Harrison, UCU members from Southgate College, were among the many teachers who went to parliament on Wednesday.

One of them said: ‘We’re all ESOL teachers and about 30 per cent of my class will be affected by these cuts and they’re asylum seekers, the same people the government now says must have a certain level of English.

‘Yet they’re taking away the funding so asylum seekers will have to pay, and they just can’t afford it.

‘From September, it will cost a student about £1,300 for an academic year to study English as a second language.

‘They are entitled to no more than 70 per cent of benefits and some are not entitled to benefits at all, and they are not allowed to work either.

‘They are not allowed to work and they are not allowed to study, so how can they possibly integrate!’

Another said: ‘I have a student who has been waiting since 2002 for his asylum decision and who has been denied the right to work by the government until now.

‘He has been able to study, but in September the government takes that right away from him.

‘He won’t be able to do anything.

‘People like that are being left in a state of destitution and are relying on friends’ charity to survive.

‘I think it is a means to drive people – asylum seekers in particular – out of the country and to discourage refugees from seeking asylum in Britain.’

The teachers added: ‘It is another move by the government to show it is hard on immigrant workers and refugees.

‘We know that 26 per cent of the workforce in London have ESOL requirements.

‘ESOL students also do vocational courses.

‘The London Development Agency gets something like £400 million a year and they have identified a 26 per cent ESOL requirement and a further skills gap of about 50 per cent. That’s a glaring contradiction.

‘This is a determined effort to cut ESOL courses by the government at a time when they’re more needed than ever.

‘It’s botched, contradictory and incompetent.

‘If colleges lose up to 50 per cent of their students, then obviously teachers’ jobs are under threat as well.

‘We are very concerned about the thousands of adults who desperately need ESOL courses and that’s why we’re here.’

Jenny Webber, GMB regional training and development officer, told News Line: ‘We’re doing a lot of work with migrants and immigrant workers who are outrageously exploited by employers, mainly because they don’t speak English and don’t understand the laws.

‘A lot of them work on the minimum wage or less.

‘They are charged ridiculous sums for travel and some people have even been charged up to £60 to get their P45.

‘And what we’re trying to do is run ESOL courses with employment rights, in order for them to get organised, join the union and stand side by side with our English members to preserve and improve terms and conditions, and not allow migrant workers to continue being exploited.’

She added: ‘A lot are deemed to be self-employed and don’t have much in the way of employment rights anyway.

‘A lot of them are paid lower than the minimum wage: how are they going to pay for ESOL courses?

‘I understand the actual cost is going to be £1,500 per person for an ESOL course from September.

That is the estimate we have been given.

‘If you are earning less than £5 an hour, how are you going to pay that?

‘Thousands of people just won’t be able to afford these classes.

‘The government says they want the employers to pay.

‘How do they expect that, when these workers are not even being paid a minimum wage and are being charged £60 for a P45!

‘The government wants inclusion. We’re working as hard as we can to get inclusion by recruiting these people to our unions and by teaching them their rights and teaching them English.

‘Now the one essential thing that enabled us to do that is being taken away and we don’t have the funds.’

Barry Lovejoy, a UCU official, said: ‘ESOL classes are universally free up to level 2.

‘The government are intending from September this year to restrict this to only those people who are receiving benefits or council tax credits and also excluding asylum seekers.

‘What will happen is they will then have to pay from September a third of the cost of courses and then in the following years up to 50 per cent of courses.

‘They are making the assumption that employers should pay more, but yet they have done nothing to make that happen and we think this could be seen as encouraging racism, rather than combating it.’

Roberto Foth, a UCU member at Tower Hamlets college, said: ‘We want to keep universal free entitlement to English classes for our students because we know once that goes, we’ll probably lose a lot of our students – and a lot of our most vulnerable students at that.

‘We are here to overturn what has been proposed by the government, and a whole coachload of students from our college alone are taking part, as well as ESOL students from Sheffield, Birmingham and other parts of the country.

‘It is quite unprecedented to have such a huge student turnout as well.’

UCU member Jackie Mahoney said: ‘We’re from the Workers Education Association (WEA) and we’re the largest provider of ESOL throughout the country.

‘The effect of these changes will be detrimental to the integration of foreign language speakers as they try to live and work in the UK.

‘We think there should always be some free provision for people wishing to learn English and that right should be protected.’

Masud, an ESOL student at Acton College, said: ‘We have come to visit parliament. We want to keep studying English.

‘We think these changes are very unfair.

‘A lot of people will be forced to stop their courses because they can’t afford it.

‘We are really worried. We can’t pay. It’s too much.’

Neza Kudura, from City College, Coventry, said: ‘I need the English course. It must be free.

‘Many of us will have to leave college if the government introduces these charges.

‘We are very angry. We don’t have the money to pay.’

Hanif Rezaie said: ‘We are very upset about this.

‘Most of the guys don’t know what to do in the future.

‘If we are not allowed to work or to study, what is going to happen to us? Our future will not be good.’

Liz Cotterill, a UCU member at City College, said: ‘We just feel the charges are unfair and will exclude students. These measures are against human rights.’

She added: ‘We’ve been told that the immigration appeals for leave to stay in Britain take less than two months, therefore those people won’t need ESOL.

‘But in practice that is not the case.

‘It is also against the government’s own policy.

‘For refugees and immigrant workers to integrate they need language skills. But these charges deny them the very courses they need to do this. It’s Catch 22.’

John Homer and Abdulla Sodiq, also teachers at City College, said: ‘Before people get permission for leave to remain, they’re supposed to pass a test in English. But they won’t get these English classes unless these funding cuts are withdrawn.’