I’m not the sort of person who tends to sign petitions, especially online ones. Partly, I don’t like giving my details to strangers, and partly I feel that most issues are worth more of a discussion than simply submitting my email address. It’s been some time since I was even a member of UCU, the University and College Union. I’m also not the sort of person who takes to the streets with a placard and megaphone to protest against everything they disagree with. I prefer quiet conversations with the right people. I kind of think that by the time you take to the streets, you’ve lost the argument anyway. It’s been a long time, decades probably, since I last took the coach to London to march upon Trafalgar Square with other members of my professional association.
Last week though, I signed a petition, a UCU petition. Online. My marching feet are getting itchy too.
The run-up to an election is always a good time to meet up with politicians. They become not only visible, but accessible. They are interested in what you say. A stream of high profile ministers and their shadows have been engaging over the past few months with key organisations and leaders in the further education sector: with the Association of Colleges, the 157 Group…
The dialogues all seem to have been very constructive. Ministers, present or future, appear to value and understand what we do. It’s about the economy, and the economy is about skills. Skills are what we do: soft and hard ones; foundation and higher ones; English and maths ones, and sector specialist ones.
The only things missing from the conversations have been promises: promises about funding; promises about ring-fencing; promises about parity. No promises even about still being around to make promises to.
And then we have the announcement last week of effectively a 24% cut in funding for any adult learning that is not an apprenticeship. A sector’s heart collectively sank.
How can this happen? Over two-and-a-half million adult voters were able to participate in learning last year through the Adult Skills Budget. How can politicians risk removing a quarter of those voters from college-based training next year? How can we remove a quarter of the opportunities from young adults not in employment, education or training and who need to claw back the years and opportunities that the school system has not delivered for them?
We can, clearly, because we have.
I signed the UCU petition which read:
We note the decision of the government to cut the English adult further education budget for 2015/16, once funding for apprenticeships is excluded, by 24%. This enormous cut in funding will decimate further education provision, leave millions of the most vulnerable adults without access to any opportunity to improve their education or retrain and put thousands of FE jobs at risk. We call upon the government not to implement these cuts and to instead invest properly in lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Decimate is only 10%, by the way. This cut is about being hung, drawn and quartered.
Over 13,000 people signed the petition in just over a week. That indicates some depth of feeling about the sector.
At the same time, however, over half a million people signed a petition urging the BBC to reinstate Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear programme after a “fracas” in which the presenter alledgedly threw a punch at his TV producer. Half a million people! Roughly the same number of adults who will not now be able to access funded training at their local college.
Luckily, the Prime Minister David Cameron has now intervened to avert this potential disaster. Our hearts can stop sinking. “My children [would] be heartbroken if Top Gear was taken off air,” he said. “I hope this can be sorted out.”