College funding has been slashed by the government since 2010 leaving colleges with no choice other than to cut courses and student support services such as pastoral support and extra-curricular activities. This underfunding has also created a crisis in recruitment and retention of staff because of the resulting pressure on pay and workloads.
by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that between 2010 and 2020, spending per student aged 16-18 fell by 14% in real terms in colleges. Even with extra funding in the 2019 and 2021 spending reviews, college funding per student in 2025 will still be around 5% below 2010 levels.
This lack of investment is having a real impact on students at the 226 FE colleges and sixth form colleges in England. One college, the only one in the locality offering Higher Apprenticeships in Professional Construction, had to drop the provision due to staff shortages. Their Groundwork Apprenticeship offer has been cut for the same reasons, leaving no local provider able to support the needs of companies in the area. Another college has had to offer 60 bricklaying/groundworks students other alternatives as they can’t recruit sufficient teachers. Other colleges have had to reduce student intake for courses such as electrical installation and plumbing due to the difficulties with recruitment.
These problems are damaging employers and the wider community too. One college has been offering adult education courses despite operating with the same levels of investment they received in 2013. They can no longer afford to offer community-based courses, which had been helping to tackle issues such as isolation. Colleges have also recently seen an increase in safeguarding issues and mental health challenges among students without being given the resources to put in place the additional support that is required.
MPs Margaret Greenwood and Robin Walker have put forward an Estimates Day debate
on the spending of the Department for Education on adult education, post-16 education, further education and colleges.
David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges said: “With a sluggish economy, the lingering threat of recession, and an ever-growing skills gap, colleges have never been more important but they have been starved of investment for the last 12 years. Across the country, brilliant staff are educating and training around two million people, from school leavers to career-changers and beyond. But they cannot run on warm words alone. Colleges urgently need meaningful and sustainable funding to stop haemorrhaging great staff, to attract new teachers, and to allow them to drive the great British economic recovery.”
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Colleges play a vital role in equipping young people with skills they need to have successful and rewarding careers, and that the country needs to ensure we have a thriving economy. The government’s lack of adequate funding for colleges over the last 13 years is not only shameful but a complete own goal in terms of economic growth. If the government had invested in colleges the economy might not be in such a moribund state.”
Bill Watkin, Chief Executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “As inflation remains high and cost pressures increase, college resources are ever more stretched. With inadequate funding, it is inevitable that more courses will be cut, the curriculum will be narrowed, choices and opportunities will be curtailed and there will be reduced opportunities for enrichment, preparation for work and support for the mental and emotional well-being of young people. Unless the government acts without delay to ensure that Post-16 education is properly funded, the economy will not thrive, the skills gap will widen, and 16-19 year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds in particular will suffer.”