CSR 2010 and skills – adults take the hit
The announcements on further education and skills in the comprehensive spending review indicate that, by and large, adult students and older employees will feel the brunt of cuts to provision. The apprenticeship programme aimed at young people is the clear winner with a commitment to fund an additional 75,000 places for people aged 19-25 at an extra annual cost of £250M by the end of the spending review (i.e. compared with the long-term plans of the previous government).
There is also a more general commitment to fund an increase in all kinds of education and training provision for 16-19 year-olds, which includes those staying on at school and others attending college or taking up apprenticeships. However, there is a sting in the tail for young people with the announcement that Education Maintenance Allowances, which provide means-tested financial support for 16-19 year-olds, will be replaced with ‘more targeted support’ that will result in a cut of half a billion pounds.
It is estimated that the FE and skills budget will be cut by around 25% and in light of the commitment to increase spending on young people, it does not take a trained economist to conclude that the over-25s will more than bear the brunt of the cuts. Some of the main cuts include the ending of the so-called “Level 2 entitlement” for those aged over 25 which in recent years supported large numbers of employees to achieve the vocational equivalent of 5 GCSEs. This entitlement had been largely delivered in the workplace via the Train to Gain programme, which as anticipated will be abolished.
The TUC had been calling on the government to retain this individual entitlement even if Train to Gain was abolished on the grounds that the state had some responsibility to support employees to achieve this skill standard if their employer refused to do so. However, we do recognise that there was evidence that the Train to Gain programme was afflicted by a degree of deadweight (i.e. it was funding some employers who would have delivered this training in any case) and that this had to be tackled.
On a more positive note, it does look like the government remains committed to the principle of providing an entitlement to training for adults lacking basic skills, an area where union learning representatives have played a pioneering role.
Other major announcements in the spending review include requiring all FE students aged 24 and over to pay fees for any level 3 courses (i.e. A-level equivalent) and introducing HE-style student loans to try and deal with the disincentives that would arise out of asking young adults to pay these fees upfront.
According to the Association of Colleges this radical change to the funding system for college students will not be implemented until around 2013. The clear message in the spending review is that individuals and employers will have to contribute much more for training courses in the future to compensate for cuts to state provision. However, it is hugely disappointing that there is much less detail about how employers will be forced to make a larger contribution beyond the rather vague proposal that the government will explore “mechanisms to increase employer contributions such as voluntary [our emphasis] training levies”.