Cuts ‘put 1,000 jobs in danger’ at region’s colleges

UP to 1,000 further education jobs could go across Yorkshire as colleges struggle to cope with swingeing funding cuts, union leaders have warned.

The University and College Union has already identified plans for more than 350 redundancies across nine colleges in the region.

However the lecturers’ union fears this is “the thin end of the wedge” as less than a third of Yorkshire’s further education (FE) sector has announced plans to cope with budget cuts.

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There are already two on-going industrial disputes over plans to axe 39 jobs at Leeds College of Building and 70 at Barnsley.

Earlier this year Sheffield College announced plans to cut 121 posts while Rotherham College of Arts and Technology said 46 jobs would need to go. The UCU has voiced fears that up to 60 posts could go at North Lindsey College in Scunthorpe but this has not been confirmed. Wakefield College has lost 30 staff through voluntary redundancy while Calderdale College, in Halifax, is to open talks with trade unions about coping with the cuts.

The UCU’s regional official, John Giddins, said it had identified up to 398 potential job cuts so far from nine colleges across Yorkshire. He said: “As these job cuts so far come from less than a third of the colleges in Yorkshire I could see the overall number getting toward 1,000 after September when colleges know how many students they have recruited and how this has affected their funding.”

College bosses at Barnsley, Leeds College of Building and Sheffield said the “overwhelming majority” of job cuts had come through voluntary redundancies or redeployment. Rotherham College declined to comment.

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Elsewhere Doncaster College said no large job losses were required while East Riding College said it had no plans to cut staff.

Barnsley College principal Colin Booth said it was also recruiting staff in other areas and staffing levels would remain “about the same”. Leeds College of Building principal Ian Billyard said alternative options had been offered to try to reduce redundancies. However there have been warnings that students across Yorkshire will suffer as a result of multi-million pound cuts to both courses and student support.

FE colleges face cuts to funding for both 16 to 19-year-olds and adults while around 27,000 adult learners in Yorkshire are set to lose their right to free education from September as a result of benefits changes.

Adult education funding has been hit by a 25 per cent cut in funding over three years.

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These cuts have left Sheffield College facing a budget reduction of £4m compared with 2010/11. Its executive director of planning and performance, Bill Jones, said the college would now be charging for courses such as English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) which it had been able to run free for many students.

The sector is also facing a massive funding cut with the removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) – a payment of up to £30 a week to support students from deprived backgrounds to stay in education. The £560m fund has been scrapped and replaced with the Learner Support Fund – worth £180m this year. Mr Jones said: “Now we have been given our allocation I have to say it is worse than our worst fears.

“The fund is meant to guarantee support to the most deprived students and let colleges decide how to award the rest but we fear that the level of demand from the most deprived students will take up all our allocation.” He voiced fears over how the loss of EMA would affect students. Former Sheffield College student Becky Impey, who clinched the highest score nationally for her A-level media studies last summer, said she would not have achieved this without EMA.

She added: “EMA enabled me to focus solely on my studies without worrying about working, which in turn allowed me to devote most of my time to various assignments, coursework and revision.

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“I probably would have still gone to college without EMA but I would have had to get a part-time job.” Mr Booth said his college was receiving £410,000 through the new fund compared with the £2.3m it got through the EMA.

However the college is topping up the scheme with more than £200,000 from its own budget: “We are offering what we consider to be the bare minimum and the money from Government doesn’t cover it.”

Bradford East Liberal Democrat MP David Ward has said stopping people on many benefits from receiving free ESOL courses will damage community cohesion.

He said: “How can people take part in the Big Society if they can’t even converse with other people?”