“Adult learning underpins economic recovery” – NIACE letter to DPM

15 January 2014

David Hughes, CEO of NIACE, has written to the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, to express his concerns that the Government appears to be considering significant new cutbacks in the funding of English further and higher education due to funding pressures at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

NIACE issued a policy statement last year ahead of the 2015-16 Spending Review and those savings, and other funding pressures, are currently being discussed, as part of immediate allocations of FE and HE funding for 2014/15. NIACE believes that these cutbacks may impact in ways that will have a disproportionate negative impact on adult learners with the lowest levels of qualifications and from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

The letter stresses that:

“…in order to widen participation and improve social mobility, it is essential to retain a ‘ladder of progression’ from adult basic literacy and numeracy, through foundation learning, Level 2 and 3 skills (including Apprenticeships) to level 4 and Higher Education. Cuts in the past few years have put enormous strain on these progression routes and there have been worrying signs of the impacts already. Good examples of this include the drastic reduction in part-time adult HE learners and the failure of advanced level learning loans to support Apprenticeships for those aged 24 and over.”

David Hughes goes on to reassert the belief – as set out in NIACE’s pre-Spending Review submission – that investment in adult learning can co-exist with deficit reduction. He says:

“My understanding is that there is a tension within BIS about how spending cuts and funding pressures can be met. NIACE is deeply concerned that these pressures may result in the most disadvantaged adults having fewer opportunities to learn to get into work, to improve their skills to stay in work and to gain higher skills to progress in work. It might appear an easy cut to make, to apply savings to the FE budget, and in the short term the reaction to that decision and the ‘noise’ it generates might very well be easier to handle; however, the short and medium term impacts would be detrimental to social mobility, fairness and economic growth.

“I would like to ask for your continued support in ensuring that necessary savings measures are applied in a way that is fair across all of the Government’s responsibilities. Within BIS I would invite your support that the savings are not concentrated upon English further education and the widening participation agenda in higher education, both of which have done so much to offer opportunities to those young people and adults who were not best-served by the school system.”