By Mark Fairlie.

A recent report published by the Institute of Fiscal Studies has demonstrated that spending per sixth form student has dropped by 21% since its peak in 2010 while spending per college student has fallen 8% in the same period.

BBC News reported that, in the 2017-2018 education year, £57m in emergency funding was provided to colleges in England by the government. Ministers have pledged to cover any cash shortages experienced by further education colleges for the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years.

However, despite this emergency funding, Hull College Group built up a £10m debt. Even with an exceptional assistance payment of £21m made to the college, the college decided it had no choice to rationalise its staffing roster resulting in “significant job losses”.

Funding equalisation between colleges and sixth forms

According to the IFS’s report, spending on sixth form and further education have been “severely squeezed” since 2010.

The Institute predicts that the amount spent per person on further education will be at the same level as it was in 2006-2007 (sixth form students 2002-2003).

The fall in sixth form funding came as a result of the reallocation of annual budgets to provide more money to students in further education colleges, which traditionally received less funding than sixth form colleges.

The report also noted that significant extra spending had been allocated to childcare for 3-4-year-olds and to higher education spending at a time when funding for schools was also coming under pressure.

Political reaction

Colleges and Further Education in Financial Storm

Speaking to the Independent, the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) commented that “parents would be horrified to learn of the damage,” comparing the £4,000 per year spent on further education students to the £9,250 tuition fees that university students pay for undergraduate courses. He warned that, in the absence of any additional investment, “more courses and student support services will have to be cut”.

In the IFS’s press pack, Rebecca Garrod-Waters of the UFI Charitable Trust, expressed concern that “high-profile UK businesses [are] warning that their graduate hires do not have the technical skills that they expect”. She was also worried about potential future job losses to automation because students weren’t “being equipped with the skills they needed to compete in the job market”.

Again, in IFS’s press pack, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, Julian Gravatt, contrasted the 15 hours per week that further education students spent in the classroom with the 25 hours spent by students in continental Europe. He continued that

“If the government is serious about competing on the global stage once we’ve left the European Union, real-terms investment is needed, urgently”.

Commenting on the Labour website, Angela Rayner, shadow education secretary, accused the Government of denying “families and learners of all ages” the opportunities they “deserve”, predicting that the current situation would eventually deliver a disastrous outcome for the UK economy.

Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the University and College Union, speaking on behalf of her members, stated in the Guardian, that staff had “seen their pay fall by 25% since 2009” and that many institutions were having ongoing issues recruiting the staff they needed.

The Department for Education told BBC News that the colleges were operating on small financial margins and that their officials are “actively considering the efficient and resilience” of colleges.