Education spending peaked in around 2010 at 5.5% of GDP or £104 billion (2019-20 prices). It has fallen since then, but how much of this is due to changes to definitions, where does this leave the UK compared to other countries and how does this fall in spending compare to others over the past seven decades?
For a number of years, the government has sought to increase productivity and raise skill levels in the UK.
The Industrial Strategy 2017 set out a vision to “establish a technical education system that rivals the best in the world” and in 2019 the Augar Review of post-18 education and funding set out a number of recommendations to improve the “capacity of the tertiary education system to produce a suitably skilled workforce”. Both of these reviews acknowledged the central role of the further education and training sector in delivering these policies and improving the skill levels of adults.
One particular area of concern where the UK has a persistent skills gap is in technical education at Levels 4 and 5 (Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) and foundation degrees)- employers have for a number of years reported shortages of people with this level of training. A large proportion of these higher technician level, sub-degree courses are delivered in further education colleges.
On 29 September 2020 the Prime Minister announced a “major expansion of post-18 education and training to level up and prepare workers for post-COVID economy”. The proposals aim to transform the training and skills system to “make it fit for the 21st century economy” and to help the country “build back better from coronavirus”. The announcement outlined various policies to encourage lifelong learning and to help adults to retrain including:
- Adults without an A-Level or equivalent qualification will be offered a free, fully-funded college course
- Higher education loans will also be made more flexible, allowing adults and young people to space out their study across their lifetimes
Further Education (FE) colleges would predominately deliver these courses and the reforms would include over £1.5 billion in capital funding to be invested in college buildings and facilities.
These plans build on the proposals outlined in the Industrial Strategy and implement some of the recommendations in the Augar Report.
A further education white paper is due later this year which is expected to outline a significant reform of the FE sector and technical education.
1.2 Role of Colleges
In 2018/19, the Association of Colleges’ publication College Key Facts 2018/19 stated that there were over 257 general, tertiary and specialist further education colleges in England. These colleges teach all levels of education from basic life skills courses up to higher technical and degree level courses. Around 1.4 million adults study or train in colleges and the average age of students is 29.
There are also four National Colleges and 12 Institutes of Technology are in the process of being established.
The Covid pandemic has had a huge impact on employment rates. The Resolution Foundation report, Young workers in the coronavirus crisis (19 May 2020) have shown that young people and adults with lower qualifications are particularly at risk of unemployment during economic downturns. Many people facing redundancy or unemployment may choose to retrain to increase their skill levels and increase their job prospects.
On 29 September 2020, the Prime Minister gave a speech at Exeter College in which announced a Lifetime Skills Guarantee and highlighted the importance of colleges in delivering lifelong learning and skills.
A publication by the Association of Colleges (AOC), Rebuild: A Skills Led Recovery Plan June 2020, sets out the training challenges caused by the Covid pandemic:
- More young people (16 – 25) needing college places due to high unemployment and being crowded out of jobs;
- A large cohort of young people, particularly new college starters, needing support to ‘catch up’ in learning after several months of lockdown;
- Fewer apprenticeship places resulting in a large number of apprentice redundancies and a shortage of new places for aspiring apprentices; and
- Large numbers of adults requiring training to help them move from the sectors in most difficulties into those which might expand or recover more quickly, this may reach even greater numbers if furloughed workers then face redundancy.
The AOC Plan sets out proposals to address skills and employment issues caused by the pandemic:
REBUILD plan will support 764,000 people, every community and thousands of employers through the recovery period and to minimise long term economic scarring:
RETAIN: every young person (16 to 18) has a confirmed high-quality education or training place, funded to meet their needs and the learning they have lost. Funding needs to be flexible enough to allow students to start throughout the year and to support colleges adapting to the ‘new normal’;
RELAUNCH: a suite of employment related skills based training programmes including extended traineeships and apprenticeships, that accommodate work experience and jobs, underpinned by a comprehensive bursary system and government incentives to employers;
RETRAIN: one, easy to access, funding pot to provide training for adults who have been made redundant, flexibly and from intense short courses all of the way to higher technical and professional qualifications.
RESOURCE: release 20 per cent of current £1.5bn capital fund for IT equipment, software and building modification in Autumn 2020 and funding for transport and the additional staffing required;
REVIEW: simplification of the funding rates and rules colleges work to in order to have the flexibilities to meet demand.
2. UK Parliamentary Material
2.1 Written Statements
HCWS506 Adult Skills and national retraining scheme update, 13 October 2020
HCWS370 Independent Review of College Financial Oversight, 15 July 2020
HCWS362 Higher Technical Education Reform, 14 July 2020
2.2 Committee Proceedings
Education Select Committee, Oral evidence session: Further Education White Paper, 10 September 2020
HL Deb, Lifetime skills guarantee and post-16 Education, 6 October 2020, cc616-28
HC Deb, Lifetime skills guarantee and post-16 Education, 1 October 2020, cc541-55
HC Deb, FE College Finances, 7 September 2020, c 350
HL Deb, Employment: Young People, 20 July 2020, cc1928-30
HC Deb, Support for left-behind children, 7 July 2020, cc872-96
HL Deb, Higher and Further Education: Rural and coastal areas, 18 March 2020, cc1460-2
HL Deb, Innovation economy: skills, 16 March 2020, cc1270-2
HC Deb, FE Colleges: Future skills, 2 March 2020, c594
HC Deb, Equality of Funding: Post-16 Education, 25 February 2020, c31WH-54WH
2.4 Parliamentary Questions
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on the provision of adult skills.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the level of skills funding for adults at risk of unemployment due to the covid-19 outbreak; and what steps he plans to take to enable people to retrain for employment opportunities in their locality.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, how he plans to distribute funding to the most deprived communities for training and employment support as part of the Government’s post-covid-19 recovery plan.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the role of the duties on local government to support students with education or training after the age of 16 in relation to the Opportunity Guarantee, announced by the Prime Minister on 30 June.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the case for skills funding for adults at risk of unemployment due to COVID-19 to enable them to enrol onto adjustment courses to retrain for jobs for which there is a local demand.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what (a) funding and (b) other support the Government has allocated to (i) the early years sector, (ii) primary schools, (iii) secondary schools; and (iv) further education institutions during the covid-19 outbreak.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to increase the number of vocational training places available to young people who wish to acquire practical and trade qualifications.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government why colleges were not included in the £1 billion student catch-up programme.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what additional financial support his Department is providing to colleges during the covid-19 outbreak.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the potential merits of allocating funding to (a) maths and (b) skills teaching for the provision of education to young people for whom a lack of a qualification in those subjects presents a barrier to social mobility.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by the Resolution Foundation Class of 2020: Education leavers in the current crisis, published in May, in particular its (1) finding that youth unemployment in Britain could reach one million over the coming year, and (2) recommendation that policies should be pursued to assist young people to continue to study, including the provision of maintenance support.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to help ensure that people have the skills they need for future roles; and what steps he is taking to re-skill people who do not have skills to meet the economic requirements of the UK.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent assessment his Department has made of the (a) social and (b) economic effect of residential adult education colleges on local communities.
To ask the Secretary of State, what steps he is taking to increase participation rates in adult education by people in lower socio-economic groups.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in (1) improving further education, (2) meeting future skills needs, and (3) supporting economic and social recovery, since the publication of their Industrial Strategy: Building a Britain fit for the future White Paper in June 2018.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, pursuant to the Answer of 3 February 2020 to Question 9674 on Digital Technology, how much funding his Department has allocated to provide adults with (a) no and (b) low digital skills to undertake new digital qualifications free of charge.
2.5 Early Day Motions
Support for FE colleges EDM 948: Tabled 1 October 2020
3. News, press releases and reports
The following includes a selection of news articles relevant to this debate. Please note that the Library is not responsible for either the views or the accuracy of external content.
3.1 Press Releases
Association of Colleges, MPs set to debate role of colleges in a skills-led recovery in Parliament during colleges week, 13 October 2020
Northern Ireland Department for the Economy, Dodds announces 3,000 funded online training places, 5 October 2020
Prime Minister’s Office, Major expansion of post-18 education and training to level up and prepare workers for post-COVID economy, 29 September 2020
Department for Education, Education Secretary outlines new measures to help more people get the skills they need to get ahead, 29 September 2020
Northern Ireland Department for Economy, Economy Minister announces skills and innovation support for social enterprises, 24 September 2020
Scottish Government, Delivering the Youth Guarantee, 2 September 2020
Scottish Funding Agency, New funding for digital training, 7 August 2020
Welsh Government, £40m to support employment training in Wales, 28 July 2020
Welsh Government, Over £50 million to support Welsh universities, colleges and students, 22 July 2020
Department for Education, Policy paper: Higher technical education reforms, 14 July 2020
Department for Education, Education Secretary FE speech with Social Market Foundation, 9 July 2020
Scottish Government, Coronavirus: Further and Higher Education sustainability plan, 9 July 2020
Association of Colleges, To avoid the mistakes of past recessions, government should focus on skills, 18 June 2020
Northern Ireland Executive, Economy Minister announces £1.7 million to support online learning for people impacted by Covid-19, 12 June 2020
‘£100m pilot integrated into £2.5bn National Skills Fund’, FE Week, 13 October 2020
Toby Perkins MP, ‘Too little, too late, Johnson’s speech take FE back to 2013’, FE Week Opinion, 10 October 2020
‘Labour party calls out “pitiful” underinvestment in college estates’, FE Week, 9 October 2020
‘Adults in England without A-levels to get free college course’, The Guardian, 28 September 2020
‘Colleges’ financial health “fragile” says audit office’, BBC News, 15 September 2020
‘Government to reveal plan in Autumn to create an employer-led “German-style” FE system’, FE Week, 9 July 2020
‘Government scraps university target in shift to further education’, Financial Times, 9 July 2020
‘“Act now”: Boris Johnson warned workers to be made jobless by coronavirus cannot get retraining’, The Independent, 2 July 2020
‘PM promises “every young person” the “change of an apprenticeship or an in-work placement’, FE News, 30 June 2020
‘Call for adult skills boost to stem unemployment crisis’, Times Education Supplement, 15 June 2020
‘[Association of Colleges]: give every young person an FE place in September’, Times Education Supplement, 6 May 2020
National Audit Office, Financial sustainability of colleges in England, 16 September 2020
Scottish Government, Youth guarantee- No one left behind: initial report, 2 September 2020
Colleges Wales, Adult learning and lifelong learning in Wales, September 2020
Centre for Ageing/Learning and Work, A mid-life employment crisis, 9 August 2020
City and Guilds Group, Recovery and resilience: Reskilling our way back into work, July 2020
Wales Centre for Public Policy Research, Planning for a prosperous, equal and green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, July 2020
Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, Creating a culture of lifelong learning in Northern Ireland, 23 June 2020
Association of Colleges, REBUILD: A skills led recovery plan, 18 June 2020
Centre for Social Justice, The long game: how to reboot skills training for disadvantaged adults, 14 June 2020
Resolution Foundation, Class of 2020: Education leavers in the current crisis, 6 May 2020
Institute for Public Policy Research, Shaping the future: A 21st century skills system for Wales, February 2020
Institute for Public Policy Research, A 21st century skills system for Wales, July 2019
The Edge Foundation, The impact of Covid-19 on education, June 2020
London First, Skilling London: London business plan for a skills-based recovery (the “Augar review”), May 2019
HM Government, Industrial Strategy: Building a Britain fit for the future, November 2017
A Westminster Hall debate on ‘Funding for further education’ has been scheduled for Wednesday 4 November 2020 from 2.00pm-3:30pm. The debate has been initiated by Gill Furniss MP.
On Wednesday 9 September 2020, there will be an Opposition Day Debate on the subject of “The personal role and involvement of the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Education in this summer’s exams fiasco”. This will take place in the House of Commons.