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Education committee echoes UCU on new priorities for colleges

12 September 2006 | last updated: 15 December 2015

UCU has welcomed today's call from the Education and Skills Committee for the government to clear up its confusing division between college courses that lead to work and those that don't. The union believes this is the cause of a growing crisis in adult education.

Under its new strategy for further education, the government has told colleges to make improving 'skills and employability' their top priority. But this directive has been interpreted very narrowly - some colleges are closing down adult education courses that they think do not align with the government's priorities.

In fact, UCU and many other organisations including some employers, have argued that these courses, while not directly linked to specific occupations, teach 'soft skills' needed for working life, and so are often an indirect route into jobs.

The committee also questioned the government's assumption that learners and employers will be prepared to pay up to double the traditional fees for courses deemed not to improve skills and employability. UCU has questioned this strategy.

The union supports the committee's call for a reconsideration of levies on employers to encourage them to train their employees.

UCU also welcomed the committee's call for the government to explain how a new requirement for college lecturers to do 30 hours of professional training each year will be paid for, and for it to be offered to lecturers who work in settings other than colleges.

While the report urges the government to revisit the funding gap between schools and colleges after the next Comprehensive Spending Review, the union was disappointed that it failed to mention improving the pay of FE lecturers whose average earnings are still significantly below schoolteachers.

Barry Lovejoy, national head of further education at UCU, who is leading the union's campaign against cuts to adult education, said: 'UCU believes that the government has created an unhelpful and confusing divide between courses that lead to greater employability and courses that don't, resulting in a growing crisis in adult education.

'Our members are reporting course closures across the country and as the committee highlighted, these are often the result of hasty decisions based on cash shortages rather than careful planning targeting struggling courses. In fact, many of the courses under threat are successful at bringing people back into learning and eventually helping them back into work. In addition, they have value in promoting good physical and mental health and well-being.

'Our members also report that the speed of fee increases is putting adult learners off and this is in turn, leading to the threatened closure of valued courses. We support the committee's call for an impact assessment of the new fees regime.

'We are disappointed that the report is silent on pay which is absolutely critical if colleges want to recruit and retain top quality staff.'