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UCU response to further education white paper

21 January 2021

UCU said the government's further education white paper was a 'sorely missed opportunity' to end further education's failed incorporation experiment, bring colleges back under public control, fund the sector properly and pay staff fairly.

The union was responding to the white paper 'skills for jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth', published by the Department for Education.

The union raised further concerns over many of the white paper's other proposals, including plans for another extension of student loans in further education and its narrow focus on meeting the needs of business.

UCU said the white paper failed to address concerns raised by the National Audit Office about the financial health of further education, and would do nothing to solve the growing pay gap between school and college teachers, which now stands at around £9,000.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Sadly, this white paper is likely to be remembered as a sorely missed opportunity to create a world class further education system. The government says it will launch a new economic dawn for the country, and that outstanding college teachers will be recruited to give young people the best possible education. But any new recruitment drives are doomed to fail without an increase in staff pay and improvements to working conditions. If the government really wants to attract new industry talent to work in colleges, its priority must be to close the £9000 gap between college and school teachers.

'The white paper does nothing to address the failed experiment of incorporation, where a combination of needless competition, fragmentation and drastic underfunding has left colleges and communities poorer. Colleges must be back brought back into national ownership so we can ensure a more accountable and strategic approach which focuses resources towards staff and students.

'Although the white paper does recognise the need for more stable long-term funding in the sector, it is concerning that the government is planning to load students with even more debt by extending loans in further education. Education is a public good and should be publicly funded.

'The focus throughout the white paper is on employers rather than staff and students, but the value of education is not just whether it fills skill gaps and improves productivity. Indeed, as the government seeks to deal with the long-term fallout from the current public health crisis it is disappointing to see such little focus on the wider benefits of lifelong learning for mental health, wellbeing and community cohesion. The government must take a much wider view of the purposes of teaching and learning. That expansive understanding - not simply the demands of employers - should be what informs teacher education for the sector.'

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