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Gavin Williamson speech response: Road to recovery must not involve cutting access to education

9 July 2020 | last updated: 15 July 2020

Responding to a speech from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, UCU said further education desperately needed funding because of a decade of cuts under Conservative governments. But that increased investment should not be at the expense of higher education.

The union said the scrapping of the 50% target of young people going to university looked like rhetoric to secure a headline and that the road to recovery involved more people accessing education, not cutting funding for universities.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Further education is in dire need of funding, but that is because the Conservative governments of the last decade have decimated it. Hearing Gavin Williamson lament the lack of funding for colleges is as astonishing as it was to hear universities minister Michelle Donelan complain last week about record student debt levels on the back of £9,250 annual tuition fees introduced by the Conservatives.

'Promising to scrap the 50% target of young people going to university might secure a headline, but the road to our recovery from the current crisis does not involve cutting the proportion of young people accessing education.

'The government should be encouraging people to attend all forms of education, not picking artificial winners in a market it has created, nor denigrating university education at a time when the sector desperately needs support.'

A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies released in September found that adult education, further education and skills spending on young people have been hardest hit by austerity since 2010.

It found that between 2010-11 and 2018-19, spending per student fell by 12% in real terms in 16-18 colleges and by 23% in school sixth forms. Following on from larger cuts during the 1990s and lower growth than most other stages of education during the 2000s, further education spending per 16-to-18-year-old is due to be only about 13% greater in 2018-19 than it was about 30 years earlier in 1989-90.

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