A coalition of North East colleges has united against significant cuts to adult further education.
The government will slash adult education funding by 24% this year and in a first for the country, principals at 16 North East colleges have joined forces to lobby Parliament over the swingeing cuts.
They have written to MPs asking for questions to be tabled in the Commons and signed a nationwide petition led by the University and College Union (UCU) which has thousands of signatures.
The principals are also calling on students and the region’s business community to support the campaign.
All 16 North East colleges are being supported by the Association of Colleges, whose chief executive Martin Doel said: “The fact that colleges in the North East have come together to campaign against the cuts demonstrates what a big issue it is for them.
“We’re living in an ever-changing society in which people do not keep to the same career path for their whole lives. These people need the options of returning to education or undertaking training.
“Adult education and training is effectively being decimated. It is too important to be lost and these cuts could mean an end to the vital courses that train people in the North East such as nurses and social care workers.”
The £460m reduction, which follows five years of funding cuts for the further education sector, will result in adult education courses being removed.
Vocational courses that develop the practical skills heavily in demand by North East employers will also be affected, in sectors such as engineering, manufacturing, health and social care, and construction.
Carole Kitching, principal at Newcastle College, said: “The 24% reduction in the adult skills budget is devastating news.
“Over the past four years, the adult skills budget has been cut by around 40% which will have a massive impact on the number of adults able to access further education as we strive to reduce unemployment and widen participation in education and training.
“Our region will be particularly hard hit with some of the highest unemployment in the country and skills gaps in many key industries.
“The cut will affect adults hoping to develop technical and vocational skills at basic levels – levels 1 and 2 – if we cannot fund people to get onto the training ladder in the first place, how will we ever train a highly skilled workforce?
“We need to invest in education for all, not restrict it to schools and universities. I am working with local college principals, staff, students, many local MPs, the Association of Colleges and the University and Colleges Union to campaign against these cuts.”
Natalie Davison, principal of Bishop Auckland College, added: “How can we improve skills to help North East firms compete in the global marketplace when adult learning funding has been reduced by 50% in real terms since 2009?
“This will have a devastating impact on the communities we serve. It will stop unemployed people being able to access training to help them secure work, and hamper businesses wanting to up-skill their workforce in order to enable growth.”