Skilled workers ‘may vanish’ if further education budget cuts continue

Professor Alison Wolf, a respected labour market expert and author of the Wolf review of vocational education, said the further education sector that provides the bulk of the UK’s post-secondary training faces possible collapse and the loss of a valuable source of technicians and mechanics.

Speaking in response to the architect of the government’s vocational education plans, Prof. Alison Wolf believes that the possibility of losing skilled workers is a  “serious potential crisis.”

Wolf, who publishes a report backed by the Gatsby Foundation, argues that “unstable, inefficient, untenable and unjust” funding is destroying education provision for school-leavers outside of universities.

“It damages and affects the nature of the industrial structure of this country. If you create a system in which vocational training can’t be funded, that is going to have a knock-on effect on which parts of the economy flourish and which don’t.”

Small companies in manufacturing areas such as the west Midlands are likely to be affected the most, as they will be unable to compete with larger companies that can fund their own in-house training, The Guardian reports.

Wolf argues that FE colleges, which are already under budget pressures, face a further threat if the government takes resources from the further education budget to fund its plans to expand apprenticeships.

“In post-19 education, we are producing vanishingly small numbers of higher technician-level qualifications, while massively increasing the output of generalist bachelors degrees and low-level vocational qualifications,” the report concludes.

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “Alison Wolf is right to say that unless its funding is protected, adult education and training could disappear entirely.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovations and Skills said: “The government is committed to creating three million apprenticeship starts by 2020 and will continue to work with colleges and business to ensure that happens. We will continue to focus investment in areas that have the most impact on increasing the skills of our workforce and help increase productivity across the county.”

Wolf said that the FE sector would be squeezed by the expansion of universities, which will soon be allowed to recruit unlimited numbers of undergraduates but were unlikely to train the skilled technicians the economy demands. “If you are a 19-year-old and the choice is between a declining number of places in struggling institutions being funded a little over £2,000 a year, or open doors at another institution with uncapped ability to recruit where the government is underwriting fees of £9,000 a year, where are you going to go?

“What we have in this country are universities that are big global institutions, that are essentially academic and concerned with research. They are not good places to be doing highly technical training that is industry-facing and rooted in the local economy.

“To put it bluntly, why do it for £9,000 a head at an institution that was trying to be global or at least national, when you could better off at a different sort of institution for a lower cost? This is no way to run whelk stalls, never mind a national economy. It’s ridiculously expensive and it isn’t even the best quality.”