College Funding Debate

Martin Vickers, Cleethorpes

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend Richard Graham on his efforts to secure this debate.

We all know that Governments over the past 10 years or so have had to make some difficult financial decisions, but the FE sector has perhaps suffered more than others, and certainly more than is desirable. In places such as my constituency and the neighbouring town of Grimsby, which have suffered a significant decline over the past 30 or 40 years following the loss of their core industry, too many of our young people have been lacking a vision of the opportunities that lie ahead. FE colleges have done considerable work in building that vision; indeed, the principal at Franklin College in Grimsby said to me that his students “go on to contribute to the town, region and country”.

 

Jeremy Lefroy, Stafford

Does my hon. Friend agree that colleges play a vital role in the community, not just through education but through a far wider range of activities, as mine in Stafford—a member of the Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group—does?

 

Martin Vickers, Cleethorpes

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Colleges have given young people in the Cleethorpes area the opportunity to gain vision and ambition, and have helped to retain those young people in the local area once they have qualified, which is particularly important.

In the short time I have, I will mention some of the other points that the principals at my two colleges have drawn to my attention. They have, of course, highlighted the fact that, over the past 10 years, there has been a 30% funding cut in FE colleges. The principal at Franklin College pointed out that, to start off with, that actually helped, inasmuch as principals recognised there were economies to be made and efficiencies that could be gained.

One important point both principals have drawn to my attention is that FE students in this country get 14 or 15 hours’ tuition per week on average, compared with 26 hours in Canada, 27 in Singapore and 30 in Shanghai. We are in a competitive situation, and we need to train our young people to go out and get the qualifications that enable them to compete for jobs in what is, whether we like it or not, a global economy.

The Minister can see from the number of Members who have turned up how strongly feelings on this issue run across parties. I urge her to take these points away. We will give her our full support in her battles with the Treasury.