Further education, skills and adult learning

What would UCU like to see?

The UK’s further education and adult learning system is diverse and complex, catering for a wide range of needs and educational aspirations. In recent years, we have seen an increasing focus on employability and an expansion of apprenticeships, while at the same time funding for further education has reduced significantly.

UCU would like the next government to look holistically at FE and adult learning, supporting a cohesive system and funding it to deliver the full spectrum of learning opportunities. This must include recognising the values of both academic and vocational learning, as well as the wider benefits of learning beyond employability.

What is each party proposing?



Conservative Party

  • Ensure that there is a University Technical College within reach of every city
  • Improve further education through the network of National Colleges, which will provide specialist higher-level vocational training in sectors critical to economic growth.
  • Publish more earnings and destination data for further education courses

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(190 votes. Average rating: 2.62 out of 10)
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Green Party

  • Return further education colleges to the democratic control of local government, and encourage local authorities to restore adult learning programmes
  • Increase further education funding by £1.5bn per annum, and allow further education colleges to reclaim VAT on goods and services in line with schools
  • Restore the Education Maintenance Allowance for 16 and 17 year olds

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(243 votes. Average rating: 7.80 out of 10)
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Labour Party

  • Protect the whole education budget in real terms, from early years to post-16 education and skills
  • Deliver a new ‘Technical Baccalaureate’ for 16-18 year olds, including a quality vocational qualification, and ensure that students study English and maths to 18
  • Transform highest performing colleges into new ‘Institutes of Technical Education (ITEs)’, with a core mission to deliver the Tech Bacc and higher level skills
  • Introduce a new, independent system of careers advice

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(198 votes. Average rating: 5.87 out of 10)
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Liberal Democrats

  • Develop National Colleges as centres of expertise for key sectors like renewable energy, and expand higher vocational training like foundation degrees, Higher National Diplomas and Higher National Certificates
  • Protect the education budget in real terms from early years to age 19, and establish a cross-party commission to secure a long-term settlement for the public funding of reskilling and lifelong learning
  • Review the VAT treatment of sixth form colleges and further education colleges to ensure fair treatment in relation to the schools sector

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(145 votes. Average rating: 4.34 out of 10)
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Plaid Cymru

  • Support non-academic and vocational qualifications, providing appropriate funding for training and courses in order to increase skills amongst the workforce, including adult and community learning
  • Introduce a Citizens’ Service, focussing on skills and learning, so that young people are ready for the world of work
  • Work with colleges to ensure that the sector continues to offer excellent education and training to widen participation and tackle social exclusion

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(99 votes. Average rating: 5.54 out of 10)
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Scottish National Party

  • Expand the Education Maintenance Allowance to an additional 22,000 young people

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(123 votes. Average rating: 4.62 out of 10)
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UCU analysis

All of the parties have included reference to further education infrastructure in their manifestos. Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats propose to develop a network of ‘National Colleges’ which would provide specialist higher-level vocation training, while Labour proposes ‘Institutes of Technical Education (ITEs)’ with much the same aim. Additionally, the Conservatives set out an ambition for expanding University Technical Colleges. The Green Party proposes a return to local government control for FE, and Plaid Cymru pledges to work with the sector to ensure continued excellence.

In terms of funding, the Green Party has pledged £1.5bn additional funding per annum for further education, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats have pledged to protect the whole education budget in real terms including further education for young people. Both the Greens and the Liberal Democrats have proposed a change to VAT rules which currently prevent FE colleges from reclaiming VAT, and the Liberal Democrats have also proposed a review of the long-term funding for adult education. Plaid Cymru promises ‘appropriate funding’ for skills, including adult and community learning. The Green Party would reintroduce the Education Maintenance Allowance, and the Scottish Nationals would extend it to more young people in Scotland.

Other proposals focus on curriculum, data and wider skills learning. Labour plans to introduce a ‘Technical Baccalaureate’ which would bridge the divide between academic and vocational qualifications at for 16-18 year olds. The Conservatives have pledged to publish more data on what happens to learners who have completed further education courses. Plaid Cymru has suggested that it will introduce a Citizens’ Service to help young people improve their skills and prepare for work.

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