Unions say adult learning has tangible social and economic benefits both for individuals and the taxpayer

UCUHundreds of people from across the South West of England are today expected to join protests in Plymouth city centre to protest about devastating funding cuts to further education and adult learning.

The rally, organised by UCU in association with UNISON, and supported by City College Plymouth, will take place on the piazza outside the Civic Centre in Royal Parade at 12noon.

Protestors will gather in the piazza to listen to speeches before setting off on a march to City College Plymouth at 1.30pm. Speakers include college staff, students, UCU regional official Nick Varney and Plymouth’s poet laureate, Sullivan the Poet.

It has been organised following the announcement that funding for adult learning courses across the south west is to be cut by up to 24% in 2015/16. Hundreds of staff have been put at risk of redundancy in colleges across the region, including City of Bristol College, Cornwall College, Petroc College, Somerset College, Bridgwater College and Yeovil College.

UCU regional official Nick Varney said: ‘Plymouth has an ageing population. Between 2011 and 2021 the number of residents over 75 will rise from 19,716 to 24,731. Five neighbourhoods have over 40% of residents aged over the age of 50.

“A one size fits all funding regime and a concentration on apprenticeships does not match what is needed in the city. Lifelong learning should encompass all ages and improving the skills of existing workers is essential to breaking the low wage economy that currently exists.

“Many small businesses report skills gaps that are hindering their ability to expand, or even to stand still. They report a lack of suitable short courses and costs as the main reason for this. Over the last five years, short courses have increased in price or disappeared due to funding cuts.

“Politicians need to understand that without colleges running the variety of courses that they currently do, thousands of people will be left high and dry and the economy in the region will suffer for it. The message that we will send out today is clear: we should be expanding opportunities for people to train, not cutting vital resources.”

UNISON area organiser Simon Wintle said “Cuts to further education funding of this magnitude will be a personal and public tragedy.  It will result in countless individuals, of many and varied backgrounds, being denied opportunities to gain qualifications and skills essential for today’s workplaces.  Adult education affords people the opportunity to re-train, and in many cases a ‘second chance’ for those who missed out on gaining qualifications at school.

“By providing these opportunties, the local economy and community receives a social and financial return – boosting incomes, which in turn are ploughed back into local businesses.  Plymouth cannot afford to lose these essential courses.  UNISON members working in colleges provide essential support to students on courses, and help keep the institutions running.  We call on everyone to support this campaign and tell the government how much we love FE.”

The protest comes the day after campaigners handed to Downing Street a petition signed by more than 42,000 people calling on the government to rethink cuts to adult learning in England for 2015-16, and invest properly in lifelong learning. The #loveFE campaign, which launched the petition, is supported by more than 20 organisations.

ATL president Mark Baker said: “FE has already been battered by excessive cuts, and these further budget reductions look like nothing less than a deliberate attempt to destroy the sector. The overnment should get its priorities right and help young adults to get into work. Under these proposals 400,000 learners will lose out.

“With these cuts, how can the sector possibly continue to provide vital education and training for adults in order to meet the needs for the workforce and boost the economy? A report from the 157 group published recently, states that the FE return on investment for learners is 11%, for society 13% and for taxpayers 12%. Why decimate a sector that is providing so much to so many?”

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “The support for this petition demonstrates how much people value adult learning in the UK. It is crucial for people’s life changes and has tangible social and economic benefits for both individuals and the taxpayer.

“We are sending a clear message to government that these damaging funding cuts need to be halted, and that proper investment in lifelong learning must be a priority for the future.”

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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