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‘Adequate funding for colleges is essential for bridging the skills gap but more needs to be done long-term’

The UK economy is likely to miss out on vital growth without a national strategy to address the growing skills gap, says one of the city’s key voices on education.

City College Plymouth’s Chief Executive is calling on the government to end its disjointed approach to skills and training, as further education leaders across the UK lobby the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to reverse 12 years of cuts to the FE sector ahead of the spring budget. 

Jackie Grubb says the UK is facing a myriad of challenges, from rising levels of regional and social inequalities, to a major skills shortage that is already being felt by almost three-quarter of businesses according to a joint report from the Open University and British Chambers of Commerce.

Jackie explained: “Today, further education leaders are calling for proper investment for our vital industries by ensuring further education colleges – which are the very lifeblood of these industries – are properly funded.  

“Further education colleges teach the skills that our essential carers need to look after the most vulnerable members of society. Further education colleges teach the skills that our engineers need to develop the technologies that will help the UK meet its net-zero pledges. Further education colleges teach the bricklayers, the carpenters, the plumbers and the other construction professionals the skills required to build the thousands of houses every year that our country desperately needs.”

Further education leaders are responding to a call by the Association of Colleges (AoC), which is looking to address the strangling cuts experienced by further education providers across the UK. The College will be supporting the AoC’s Mind the Skills Gap campaign by hosting a series of events and sharing a number of case studies to highlight how crucial further education colleges are supporting the people and businesses here in Plymouth and the wider region, and the urgent need to address funding. 

But Jackie added that the conversation needs to go further than just funding, calling on a national strategy for skills that includes a statutory right to lifelong learning. 

Jackie said: “Adult education rates have dropped at a time when more and more jobs require level 3 (A Level) equivalent qualifications. Only 60% of young people reach this level by the age of 19, and this is being felt by our employers. A statutory right to lifelong learning would make access to funding and grants more straightforward for adults wishing to return to education, addressing this shortage.”

A fairer funding formula is also required, according to the College chief, who said: “The post-18 education system is unsustainable. We have students leaving higher education institutions with huge levels of debt whilst our further education colleges are feeling the impact of over a decade of underfunding.” 

Jackie continued: “In the short term we need to address funding to support our staff and to address the growing workforce crisis that our colleges are facing. Long-term, a complete overhaul of the system is needed in order to support both younger and adult students who in turn will be working at the very heart of our vital industries.”

Just last month the College shared details about its new partnership with one of the city’s biggest employers, Princess Yachts, which is recruiting new outfitters to help meet its business growth across the globe. Another highlight for the College is a joint project with Exeter College to support post-16 teachers of maths and English with access to free CPD. 

Other campaign activities include hosting a live podcast on Monday 13 March with the support of Devon and Plymouth Chamber, and the College will be collecting responses to a questionnaire that will aid a bigger piece of work to address the city’s skills priorities.