Conservative conference fringe event 2019: Delivering on promises to Further Education

Conservative conference fringe event 2019: Delivering on promises to Further Education

15th October 2019

Boris Johnson has made a bold promise to do better for FE and the people who rely on it. What can government, business and providers do to deliver a thriving FE sector?

This event, held in partnership The Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL), examined why successive governments have neglected further education, in favour of higher education.


Professor Baroness Alison Wolf, Panel Member, Augar Review of post-18 Education Funding
David Hughes, CEO, Association of Colleges
Adam Drummond, Associate Director & Partner, Opinium

Chair: James Kirkup, Director, Social Market Foundation

Adam Drummond kicked off the event with a presentation on findings on university vs FE today – showing there is a growing lack of faith in the value of some university degrees and strong public recognition of the value of vocational and technical education. Particularly the younger generations are not seeing the benefits as much as the older generation.

David Hughes said the skills gap now is really becoming quite apparent: if you are about social justice and the economy, you have to care about further education. The big test of political promises on FE will be system change and the creation of an FE sector properly structured and funded to offer post-18 technical education.

We need to make sure that all three – school, universities and colleges – are all playing a crucial role, overlapping but also unique, and focussed much more on outcomes and impacts than inputs.

Professor Baroness Alison Wolf said that Britain has created a hugely complex and underfunded FE system that’s difficult for learners to navigate and for politicians to sort out – the aim really must be to recreate a sector. This means clearer financial incentives for learners and providers.

“We need a Secretary of State who keeps bashing the government to be doing stuff on FE, and this is incredibly important as some of this is quite technical” she said. The difficulty is ensuring the government sticks to changing FE and committing to long-term change.

“It’s about genuinely accepting that colleges are not a problem sector, and see them a network of institutions which are at the centre of every major town and city.”

Hughes agreed saying that we need to carry on banging the drum about FE – to really change the culture of our society to think “my children need to do this” and deliver sustained investment.

Degree apprenticeships have ended up squeezing other qualifications at the expense of other people who need a L2 and L3 qualifications, he said. Examining the funding system for further education would open up opportunities for those currently unable to afford paying for the courses, suggesting making them loan-funded.

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