FE & skills: UCU commentary

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.