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University staff union marches against education funding cuts

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On 18 March, University and College Union (UCU) members went to parliament to lobby MPs over budget cuts to further education (FE).

It was announced on 26 February that the Adult skills budget, responsible for funding a range of FE courses and colleges for adult learners, would be cut by 11 percent in 2015 to £3.91bn.

£770 million has been ring-fenced for apprenticeships, meaning many FE providers will experience unprecedented cuts of up to 24 percent.

Fighting against it, staff and students from all areas of further and higher education rallied together in London for a march to the House of Commons in protest of these cuts.

The UCU are particularly concerned that these changes might “reduce the number of adults returning to learn or to retrain” and “affect higher level courses as fewer students will be able to access learning which acts as a ‘stepping stone’”.

Alongside lobbying MPs, UCU have started a Save Adult Education campaign endorsed by NUS, the Association of colleges, and the Trade Union Congress to name but a few organisations.

As part of this campaign they wrote a petition calling MPs to oppose the cuts, which has over 27,000 signatures (as of March 27) including many students and staff from Warwick University.

Warwick Sociology lecturer Richard Lampard, commented: “The proposed funding cut shows an apparent lack of understanding of the value of adult FE. It seems very short-sighted, both in economic terms and in terms of social mobility.”

Deborah Biggerstadd, a senior teaching fellow at Warwick Medical School, stated: “Lifelong learning remains an opportunity to develop, educate and support our society”.

As a higher education institution, Warwick’s budget should not be directly affected by these cuts.

In a Q&A session earlier this year vice-chancellor Nigel Thrift was asked what the most pressing higher education issue was, he replied: “It’s actually further education which is too often treated, in our still sadly class-divided society, as a poor cousin of higher education.

“Every person of student age needs to be treated equally. They’re not.”

Elizabeth Dowler, professor of Sociology at Warwick, said: “Many of the students I teach at Warwick come through FE colleges or are part of the Warwick 2+2 programme which works through local partner FE colleges.

“I know how hard colleagues there work and deplore any undermining or downgrading of the excellent, empowering work they do.”

Susana Howe, a Lifelong Learning programme co-ordinator at the School of Modern Languages, commented: “Education is vital for the development of people and society.

“Adult/mature learners not only benefit from the knowledge they acquire but also from keeping their minds active and healthy. I intend to continue learning my whole life!”

The UCU’s campaign has already caused a stir at Westminster, with 63 MPs having signed a motion that says the cuts will shut the door to adult education on those that would benefit the most from it, and urges the government to rethink the reduction in spending.

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