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Budget proposals fail to recognise that Further Education means success for Northern Ireland Posted on 29/01/2018 00:00:00 Colleges Northern Ireland representing the six regional Further Education (FE) Colleges has demanded an urgent rethink on the proposals presented in the 2018-2020 Budgetary Outlook. The proposals undermine the life chances of the most vulnerable in society, fail to consider longer-term economic and social impacts and hit an already heavily rationalised FE sector.

The proposal to cease Entry Level and Level 1 provision will impact on 15,000 learners many of whom live in the most disadvantaged areas of NI.  Charging for Home to School Transport which will affect 6,500 FE students and ceasing or reducing payments under the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) will affect circa 8,000 FE students, again mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Northern Ireland continues to have the highest proportion of working age population with no formal qualifications.  The draft Programme for Government (PfG) aims to ‘improve wellbeing for all – by tackling disadvantage…’. However these proposals undermine the up-skilling of the most vulnerable in our society and it is misguided to think that alternative existing provision could fill the gaps that some of these proposals will create.  The proposals will also impinge on economic growth by reducing access to skills. 

Colleges Northern Ireland recognises the need to control public expenditure and find savings where possible.  However, these budgetary proposals demonstrate a lack of understanding of the important role that developing the skills of the most vulnerable in society plays in supporting economic growth and social cohesion.

The proposals will hit an already heavily rationalised Further Education sector which over the last decade has made significant efficiency savings by transforming from 16 to 6 colleges, absorbing significant inflationary pressures and dealing with cuts in excess of £20 million since 2015/16.  The sector now faces further cuts of between £14m to £27m, excluding inescapable inflationary pressures.

The need to transform educational services has been well debated and there is no better time than now to create a real and meaningful 14-19 education strategy to deliver the educational and skills outcomes set out in the draft PfG and increase the return on the overall investment in education and skills in Northern Ireland. 


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