HE national disputes 2021

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Government must invest in staff to meet autumn budget education commitments

27 October 2021

In response to the UK government's autumn budget, UCU said the 'elephant in the room' remains the lack of trained college staff to meet the budget's ambitions.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak's budget had a number of commitments to further education, including spending on skills, lifelong learning and college buildings, as well as a new national numeracy programme. However there was no clarity on whether there would be new money to meet the commitments.

The higher education sector had been expecting a long-awaited response to the 2019 Augar review of post-18 education, which called for a cut in undergraduate tuition fees and changes to student loan terms. But this was further delayed.

Responding to the budget and its impact on post-16 education, UCU General Secretary Jo Grady said: 

'Investment in lifelong learning and in our English colleges is desperately needed, as is funding to help pupils catch-up after Covid and improve numeracy. But the elephant in the room remains the lack of trained college staff to make the government's plan work. The pay of those working in further education has been cut by 35% in real-terms since 2010 and 24,000 teaching staff have left the sector in the last ten years. Reversing these trends must now be a priority if the government's levelling up agenda is to mean anything in post-16 education.

'Whilst the Chancellor kicks the issue of tuition fees into the long grass, the fees model continues to fail students, saddling them with debt and accelerating the marketisation of our higher education system. Universities should primarily be sites of learning, but the toxic reliance on tuition fee income means they now resemble complex businesses, with an unhealthy focus on revenue capture, a culture which was brutally exposed during the pandemic when the need to secure fee and rental income was prioritised over the health and wellbeing of students.

'Rather than waste any more time tinkering around the edges of a broken funding model or dictating to students what constitutes a valuable degree, the government would be much wiser to explore investing in a publicly funded higher education system.'

Last updated: 27 October 2021