The right education can be truly transformational, and improving access to education for everybody, at any stage of their life, is what brought me into politics and what motivates me every day.
So, I was really pleased to support Love Our Colleges Week last week, which celebrates the fantastic work of our Further Education colleges, and the dedicated staff who make it possible, and I was delighted to welcome some inspiring students from local college BHASVIC and their Principal to Parliament. Colleges play an essential role not only in young adult education but also in life-long learning, and are truly invaluable for many communities across our country.
As well as celebrating our colleges’ achievements, Love Our Colleges Week is also about drawing attention to the serious issues affecting the sector, and I was shocked to hear from BHASVIC that current students are having to use computers which in some cases are so slow, they can take up to half the time of the lesson to log on, meaning pupils can’t access the learning materials they need.
This is just one example of the ways in which the chronic and long-term underfunding of our colleges is having a serious, detrimental effect on the day to day learning experience of pupils. More widely, across the sector we are seeing the numbers of courses and students diminish, and social mobility is being held back.
Colleges have had almost a third of their funding cut over the last ten years, and teachers and staff at these institutions receive less than 80% of what they would in a school. Spending per student is now at a similar level to what it was 30 years ago, and many colleges are now in a situation that is frankly unsustainable.
This is also about fairness. At the moment, the Government provides about £10,500 funding for young people who go to university, but for people who go to a further education college, the funding is much less than half that. For young people who get an apprenticeship, it is about £1,500.
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Further Education and Lifelong Learning, I’ll keep doing everything I can to raise these issues in Parliament, and urge the Government to recognise the importance of our Further Education and invest in our young people, in social mobility, in skills, and in our future economy.
Peter Kyle is the Labour MP for Hove.