After months of anticipation, prime minister Theresa May unveiled the government’s review of post-18 education at the end of May.
The Augar review received a mixed response, with university tuition fees stealing the headlines ever since. However, during her speech, May acknowledged FE has been “overlooked, undervalued and underfunded,” with some parties calling this an understatement. Figures shared in a PoliticsHome article show that funding for adult education has been cut by almost a half (45%) since 2010.
While May launched the report, it is expected that it will now fall to the next prime minister to address the significant under-funding of colleges, as well as the disregard of lifelong learning.
In order to meet the challenges posed by Augar, it is thought the next chancellor will have to secure £1bn minimum from the Treasury to fund proposals set out by the Augar panel. Such proposals include an increase in the base rate of funding, a capital programme to enhance FE colleges, and free level 2 and 3 provision for adult learners to increase participation.
It’s a challenge that cannot be overlooked; around nine million UK adults lack basic skills and employers are reporting huge skills gaps. Moreover, continuous technological advances, coupled with longer working lives, have made it more important than ever to commit to lifelong learning.
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, acknowledged: “Few jobs will be unchanged from technology and very few people will be able to thrive without frequent opportunities to learn, train and pick up new skills.
“Focusing only on universities and tuition fees does not do justice to those challenges, nor recognise the opportunities we have as a country if we get this right.”
In terms of higher education it has also been said that the Augar review deals a double blow for students and universities. Graduates are expected to be left paying more, for longer, for degrees delivered in universities more poorly-funded than before.
The proposed reduction of tuition fees to a maximum of £7,500 is thought to be a move that will only benefit the richest graduates – the small minority who pay their full loans back. Universities definitely won’t benefit.
Also, students will pay more to attend less well-funded courses, as the review also suggests lowering the threshold at which graduates repay their loans, and extending the payment period to 40 years from the current 30.
At the very least, the review suggests that non-repayable maintenance grants – which were scrapped in 2016 – should be re-introduced for poorer students.
What do you think about the FE or HE aspects of the Augar review?