Proposed FE cuts will create ‘devastating’ economic impact

February 12, 2018

Proposed budget cuts in the Further Education sector will have a devastating impact on the local economy and will adversely affect the future employment prospects of many students from rural and low-income families, SDLP MLA Justin McNulty has claimed.

The recently published Budgetary Outlook for 2018/2020 proposes the axing of Entry and Level One courses in further education colleges – which are currently aimed at advancing the skills of students moving on from Special Schools or Learning Support Centres – and imposing restrictions on the Home to School Transport scheme.

Mr McNulty says these changes target the most vulnerable in society and has called for them to be withdrawn immediately.

Describing the report’s proposals, published by the Head of the Civil Service, as “grim reading”, he said: “In real terms, it is quite clear they are targeting the most vulnerable in our society and those who live in rural communities.  In the absence of a functioning Executive and devolved Minister, the Further Education sector is facing really devastating cuts in the year ahead.  This is short sighted and will have an adverse impact on our economy at a time when we need to up-skill our workforce to meet the growing needs of our economy, especially in the face of Brexit.

“The proposals include removing Entry and Level 1 provision in Further Education Colleges.  These are courses, which target those who need support, many of whom are coming from our Special Schools or Learning Support Centres in secondary schools.  The courses offer training of the most basic skills and are a lifeline to those who participate of these courses,” Mr McNulty explained.

“In addition to this, I fear the future of the Training for Success Programme is in jeopardy.  This programme is designed for young people aged 16 – 17 or up to 22 for those with a disability.  I understand the thinking is that many of these young people could be directed to training provision within the Community and Voluntary Sector.  This is simply not good enough, they are shipping those with a disability out of our education system.  This cannot be accepted.”

 Commenting on suggestions to restrict the Home to School Transport scheme, he added: “At present almost 6,500 students across the north receive some form of [travel to/from school] assistance, with over 1,600 of them attending the local Southern Regional College campuses. This is an extremely worrying development and is targeting those who live in rural communities.”

Voicing his fear that the further and higher education provision may become “reserved for the privileged”, the Newry and Armagh MLA said: “They are targeting those who need support the most, those from low income families and in receipt of EMA, and those from rural communities.  This spells disaster for our economy and our rural communities.  These proposals must be resisted and withdrawn immediately,” and added that he plans to meet with management of local Southern Regional Colleges and the Permanent Secretary at the Department of the Economy to discuss the issue.