Friday 12-06-2015 - 12:01
Today NUS is joining with organisations, staff and learners from across the Further Education sector to lobby Parliament on the 24 per cent cut to adult education.
Over the last few years, NUS has seen learners in FE hit with a barrage of cuts. These cuts have shut them out of an education system which exists to educate and train adults who need it the most. I believe that the real value of FE lies in its ability to offer opportunities for those who have been failed by the schools system and those who need a place in their community where they can make a new start.
Today clearly marks a significant moment for our sector. The extent of the government’s reductions leave us with difficult decisions and tough choices about the future direction of FE. But, today also provides us with a chance to celebrate why FE is the most inspiring and transformative part of the education system.
Undoubtedly, the government’s decision to slash the budget will mean millions of learners will lose the opportunity to return to education and gain a second chance. Adult skills provision supports learners to gain qualifications from basic skills through to degrees and it supports the prosperity of both national and local economies. Often, it is the most vulnerable in society who rely on courses at their local Further Education college to equip them with the skills they need to find work.
But adult skills provision is not only crucial for the strength of our economy, it is also a vital part of local communities helping those learners re-build their lives. It offers second or even first chances to adults. Many who want to build their confidence, gain literacy and numeracy skills or take an evening class to learn a new skill.
For example, one large London college has recently been forced to close their ceramics department. In light of the cuts to funding the college has been forced to prioritise only those courses which create ‘lines of sight to work’. As a result, large numbers of passionate, dedicated and talented students have been marginalised because their educational needs do not fit with the strategic vision of this government.
One student at the college said: ‘As a disabled woman, this is almost the only way that I am able to get out into the community, and to meet and mix with others as equals. This is not just a social group. It is also an opportunity to learn the art and craft of ceramics. I can’t tell you how much my confidence and pleasure in life has increased over the last few years of learning new skills. It’s a huge part of my life now. It’s the only place I go where I meet and talk to people – apart from the local shops’.
We have heard countless stories just like this, of learners who depend on the courses at their local colleges. These courses would probably be dismissed as ‘low level classroom-based’ by this government, but to individual learners they are a lifeline.
It’s these learners whom we must stand up for. In many cases they don’t have a voice, an opportunity to speak to power about why their course is much more than a qualification.
Though these cuts seem devastating, they also offer an opportunity for all of us to unite and shout about why FE is so important. Politicians, policy makers and journalists may not have experienced FE first hand but we must all make sure that our voices are too loud for them to ignore. We need to present a positive image of FE and use all of the amazing stories of individuals who we know to show why FE, like no other sector, can genuinely transform people’s lives.
If you haven’t done so already, please sign and circulate the petition to save adult education.