Colleges Week 2021
This week, we have been celebrating colleges and the role they play in building communities, boosting businesses and supporting individuals in the region to reach their full potential. The North East is lucky to be served by so many excellent colleges, whose tireless efforts ensure that our businesses have access to the skills they need to succeed.
Colleges are places where students are empowered to achieve. In many cases, college is the culmination of a student’s educational journey and their final opportunity to prepare themselves with the knowledge, skills and confidence needed in the workplace. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed and exacerbated societal inequalities, which, without action, could impede the vital work of colleges.
Before Covid-19 hit, students living in poverty were 22.7 months behind their more wealthy classmates in terms of educational attainment. The pandemic has only worsened this gap, with low-income families twice as likely not to have had the resources needed to continue their children’s education during school closures. Our region has witnessed the starkest increases in child poverty in the UK since 2016 and, as a result, young people in the North East have lost twice as much learning as their peers in wealthier regions.
As we emerge from the crisis, increasing numbers of young people will be entering colleges having missed a significant portion of their education. A disproportionate number of students in colleges come from disadvantaged backgrounds and, undoubtedly, many colleges will be working tirelessly to help them catch up, while also supporting unemployed adults to reskill and enter new careers. However, colleges are underfunded, with per-student college funding falling by 12% over the last decade. This reduction in national college funding has hit the North East particularly hard, as half of the pupils in our region enter apprenticeships or further study at colleges compared with only 26% in London. Increased levels of disadvantage, combined with the North East’s high entry rates into further education at a time of record-low investment in the sector, will put increased strain on the resources of our region’s colleges.
The upcoming Budget is an opportunity for Government to outline the strong and sustained college funding increases needed to redress disinvestment and prepare colleges to tackle the challenges they face in light of the Pandemic. Targeted funding to enable colleges to support students whose needs are most acute in further education, and where learning loss will have the most impact on future life chances is crucial to the North East’s recovery. It is imperative that colleges are placed at the forefront of the levelling up agenda and given the tools to empower every student, irrespective of background, to succeed.