Cuts Watch #15: Cuts to education and skills
The main cuts to education and skills announced today comprise £200M from the higher education budget, £200M from the budget for the Train to Gain skills programme, and a range of ‘efficiency savings’ applied to skills quangos.
The £200M cut to Train to Gain actually involves a refocusing of this expenditure on apprenticeships and college buildings rather than a direct cut. In effect this means that the overall cut to the BIS budget of £836M is in effect scaled back to £636M. Out of the £200M saving from Train to Gain, £150M will go to creating an additional 50,000 apprenticeships. The other £50M will go to supporting capital investment in colleges.
The Treasury press notice says that the additional apprenticeships will be ‘focused on small and medium enterprises’ and David Laws says in his speech that the £150M will be focused on ‘adult apprenticeships’ (which actually refers to people aged over 19). A related commitment by the Department for Education promising to safeguard education and skills provision for 16-19 year-olds means that the number of young apprenticeships should remain as previously planned.
Whilst it is welcome that there will be more apprenticeship places and improvements to college buildings, there are a number of unanswered questions about the impact of the changes to Train to Gain on the total number of planned training places. First, the move to divert £50M to FE capital means that an equivalent amount will be cut from the budget for directly training employees. Secondly, diverting money to apprenticeships will mean taking it away from other priority areas (e.g. training directed at people with few or no qualifications, including basic skills training). It is difficult to tell at this stage what the overall reduction in training places will be as a result, but it is bound to be significant.
The statement by BIS also announced a cut of £11M to the UK vocational reform programme which largely refers to the large scale project to develop a new Qualifications and Credit Framework so that qualifications can be broken down into units and credits.
As widely anticipated, ‘efficiency savings’ will be applied to a number of skills quangos but there is no mention of actual abolishing any at this stage, though doubtless this is still on the cards for some of them. However, it was announced today that one of the education quangos – BECTA – will be abolished.
The cut to the HE budget of £200M comprises a reduction in the Modernisation Fund of £118M (down from £250m to £132m). This is the funding that had been announced by the previous government to provide 20,000 additional student places in the forthcoming academic year – there will now only be 10,000 additional places. There is also an additional £82m of efficiency savings applied to the HE sector.
Today’s announcement contained much better news for the schools budget, the budget for education and skills provision for 16-19 year-olds, and the Sure Start budget. The government has committed to protect these areas from ‘any in-year spending cuts.’ However, according to the BBC website these commitments conceal the fact that there will be reductions to funding in these areas via other means, including cuts to national initiatives to support literacy and numeracy in schools, cuts to local authority funding for schools in some areas, and cuts to the fledgling 14-19 vocational diplomas.