The UK Parliament Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in the United Kingdom has warned that the government is not doing its best to tackle a ‘looming crisis’ in further education colleges. Their report says the consequences for students and the economy will be substantial if these schools’ financial situation doesn’t improve.
The PAC review criticizes both the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and the Skills Funding Agency for a delay in their efforts to ameliorate the situation.
MP Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the PAC, warned about the sustainability and future of further education:
“The Government has been desperately slow off the mark to tackle a looming crisis in further education.
For the academic year 2013-2014, 29 further education colleges in England were considered ‘financially inadequate’. By the end of the 2016 academic year, about 70 schools will be in the same dismal financial position.
In response to the committee’s concerns, the Department of Business, Industry and Skills said that fifteen of the FE colleges classified as ‘financially inadequate’ are no longer in that position.
The Skills Funding Agency reassured that the financial health of further education schools is still a priority for the organization. Hillier said the case in the FE sector is worrying given that further education colleges benefit not just students by qualifying them for a job, but also local communities in which they work.
In their review, the PAC looked into the challenges FE colleges face that are summed up as stagnant investment projects, quality staff shortfall, and course cancellations, BT.com says. Being ‘financially inadequate’ means schools might have to make budget cuts in order to be able to provide for their courses and students.
The Committee chariwoman and MP says that the government needs to act fast, since early intervention will help prevent an escalation of the financial crisis. FE colleges in England receive about $7 billion in state funding for the training and learning of approximately 4 million students, The Mirror says. Hillier argued in favor of more funding transparency:
“There must be greater clarity over who is responsible for taking action when colleges face financial difficulties, when that action should be taken, and a fuller understanding of its effects.”
Echoing the PAC review, Dr. Jonathan Tummons of the Durham University School of Education, emphasized that further education schools have been underfunded compared to sixth form schools for quite some time, BT.com says.
One of the committee proposals is to make sure the Further Education Commissioner can effectively intervene to help struggling colleges when intervention is due. The committee also advocates for proactive measures that will protect and prepare further education colleges from imminent budget cuts and other financial struggles.
Nick Boles, Minister of State for Skills and Equalities, said the government has secured funding for the sector and is planning to increase real-term spending by at least 33% over the next five years, The Independent reports.
The chair of the Education Select Committee, Neil Carmichael, said the English economy is in need of a more efficient and groundbreaking FE sector, one that’s capable of giving learners the skills and qualifications they need to find a job. He states, according to Sean Coughlan of the BBC, that schools need adequate funding to achieve financial stability and meet their goals.
Further Education colleges are not government-run, and intervention by the government takes place only when a school is financially failing. Otherwise, schools are responsible to run and plan for themselves.