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It’s been a tough environment again for further education in 2018. Sector consolidations contin-ued, we’ve now seen 40 mergers and 20 academisations since the start of 2017 and over that time we now have 15% fewer colleges in England. What we are now seeing is a number of colleges that are very large and actually they start to look and feel much like universities and this blurring of the line between higher education and further education has really continued in 2018.
We’ve also seen a lot of universities enter into the higher skills and higher apprenticeship market meaning that colleges, as well as competing with each other are now having to compete with
universities like they never have before.
So, in 2019, government rhetoric is unchanged. They want a first class technical education system.
The reality for colleges though is, who pays?
Government funding looks like it’s gonna be static, at best and apprenticeships whilst being fully embraced by large employers like Barclays has had slower take up with smaller employers.
So 2019 is going see the introduction of an insolvency regime. After the carrot of the restructuring facility which has funded many mergers and many fresh start, we now have the stick of insolvency.
But I think we should be focusing on prevention, rather than cure. College managers and college governors should be thinking about the quality of their provision because there’s no market place for poor provision and they should be thinking about cash flow.
Cash is king. It pays the salaries and it keeps the lights on.
But, ultimately, where colleges are delivering provision that is of a poor quality and makes no contribution , they should exit. Now, that’s a very hard decision for a community institution but if they don’t make that decision there’s a danger they will fail their social mission, vision and purpose.
So, ultimately, I’m optimistic about further education sector. The UK economy needs a productivi-ty boost and for that productivity boost we need a skilled workforce and to be able to deliver that we need a sector that is responsive flexible and has the right network of people, buildings and campuses.
And that is the further education sector.
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