The letter, sent ahead of the Budget on 22 November, warns that cuts have reduced the availability of learning opportunities for young people and adults, leading to the loss of over a million adult learners and thousands of staff from the sector in recent years.
It goes on to welcome additional spending on technical education, but says that “investment in technical learning alone is not sufficient to reverse the impact of these cuts or to meet the country’s skills needs”.
It urges government to fund a wider range of opportunities to help people progress “into higher level learning or employment, build confidence and resilience, develop basic skills or return to education in later life”.
The letter is co-signed by the University and College Union, UNISON, the Association of Colleges, the National Union of Students, the Association of School and College Leaders, the National Education Union, Holex, the Third Sector National Learning Alliance, the Learning and Work Institute and Voice.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Cuts to further education have closed off vital learning opportunities, putting a cap on aspiration for too many people. To boost productivity and social mobility, the government must now ensure that the further education sector is properly funded to deliver whatever skills people need to get on in life.”
David Prentis, general secretary of UNISON, said: “Years of underfunding have created a harsh financial climate that’s forced colleges to merge, shed staff and limit courses simply to survive. If the UK is to have a strong economy in future, the government should be encouraging the next generation of working people, not restricting students’ ability to thrive.”
Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, said: “Investment in learning for adults is vital for our economic prosperity and social mobility. We need further action to reverse declines in the number of adults in learning. This includes more investment and finding new ways to engage people and deliver learning. This has perhaps never been more important.”
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "Further education has been starved of the investment needed to support young people and adults gain the skills they need for successful careers. Without new investment now we will see more employers failing to fill skilled jobs and even more people unable to fulfil their ambitions and talents."
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The government must reverse its cuts to funding for 16-19 education and adult learning. If it’s serious about having a strategy for the skills required for a shifting labour market and strong post-Brexit economy, it must put its money where its mouth is and fund this vital sector.”
Deborah Lawson, general secretary of Voice, said: “At a time of skills shortages and economic uncertainty because of Brexit, it is essential that the government invests in further education for the future, for the sake of young people, adult learners and the economy.”
The full letter text is as follows:
In her speech to the Conservative conference last month, the Prime Minister outlined a desire for everyone to have the opportunity to study more after they leave school. This commitment is not only important for individual social mobility; it will also be crucial for boosting the UK's productivity, addressing skills gaps and encouraging economic growth.
To ensure that everyone can access the learning they require after school, we need a stable and well-resourced further education sector which can cater to a wide range of needs and ambitions. However, successive funding cuts have weakened our nation's skills infrastructure and reduced the availability of learning opportunities for young people and adults.
While the government has made welcome commitments to expanding technical education and apprenticeships, other areas of learning - many of which support the most vulnerable in our society - have been scaled back. Over one million adult learners have been lost from further education, and thousands of talented staff have left the sector as their jobs have been cut and their pay and conditions eroded.
Investment in technical learning alone is not sufficient to reverse the impact of these cuts or to meet the country’s skills needs. Many people require different, flexible educational opportunities to support their progression from school into higher level learning or employment, build confidence and resilience, develop basic skills or return to education in later life.
Unless we ensure that further education is well placed – and funded - to meet these different needs, too many people will remain unable to access the qualifications and jobs which support higher productivity and economic growth.
That’s why we, on behalf of staff, students, education leaders and providers, are asking you to pledge additional investment for further education in your Budget on 22 November, to support more and better learning opportunities for young people and adults. There are few spending commitments which could have greater transformative potential – both for individuals and our economy.
Sally Hunt, General Secretary, University and College Union
Dave Prentis, General Secretary, UNISON
David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges
Shakira Martin, President, National Union of Students
Geoff Barton, General Secretary, Association of School and College Leaders
Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretaries, National Education Union
Sue Pember, Director of Policy, Holex
Tim Ward, Chief Executive Officer, Third Sector National Learning Alliance
Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, Learning and Work Institute
Deborah Lawson, General Secretary, Voice