‘We need to fight for our students’ – Colleges wade into battle for education funding

Mike Gaston, principal of Havant Sixth Form College and South Downs College
Mike Gaston, principal of Havant Sixth Form College and South Downs College
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  • Colleges look to secure extra funding from government ahead of this month’s budget
  • Leading institution says situation is at risk of getting worse
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COLLEGE principals say they are fighting to protect their students’ futures from the threat of cuts to education budgets.

With funding for public sixth-form colleges less on average than secondary schools and universities, the principal of one of south Hampshire’s biggest colleges has called on parents to lobby their MPs for more funding to prevent services being potentially stripped back.

We are taking this unusual step in order to make it known that funding cuts in education have already impacted most harshly upon those in England, aged 16-19, and there is a risk this will get worse.

Mike Gaston, principal of Havant & South Downs College

In a letter to parents, Mike Gaston, principal and CEO of Havant & South Downs College said that he is acting before the situation ‘gets worse’.

He wrote: ‘The college and others in the region are giving students an excellent education but this is under threat from the progressive erosion of funding.

‘This is not a party-political matter. It is about the difficult task for any government of balancing spending priorities within a limited budget. We have met MPs to make the case but are now asking for your support.’

Average funding for a sixth form or college is £4,583 per student. This is 20 per cent less then the average funding for secondary school students and nearly 50 per cent less than the average university tuition fee of £8,636.

Mr Gaston said the amount of cash given to colleges, per pupil, by the government had been slashed, meaning Havant & South Downs was £8m worse off now than eight years ago. This meant staff were having to work harder, piling on pressure, forcing the college to reduce the number of overall teaching hours.

Mr Gaston said that while primary and secondary schools had drawn attention to funding pressures – such as a school in Hayling Island appealing for parents to provide art equipment – sixth form education was being overlooked.

He added: ‘We are a thriving college and justifiably proud of the quality of opportunity and experience we offer and will do everything in our power to protect students’ interests.

‘We are taking this unusual step in order to make it known that funding cuts in education have already impacted most harshly upon those in England, aged 16 to 19, and there is a risk this will get worse.’

Alan Mak, Havant MP, said he had met Mr Gaston to discuss the issue of funding for the college. He said: ‘I am writing to the Chancellor ahead of the Budget raising his latest points about 16 to 19 funding.’

Fareham College principal Nigel Duncan said it was ‘100 per cent behind’ Havant & South Downs College about the notion of further funding for colleges.

He said: ‘As colleges, we are expected to do more and receive less money for it.

‘It puts us under a lot of pressure and I am hopeful the government will see that the sector is struggling to match the pressures. More and more colleges are finding it difficult to balance the budget.

Stella Mbubaegbu CBE, principal of Highbury College, said the institution was part of the campaign to increase funding for college by £200 per student.

She said: ‘The funding would significantly benefit Highbury, as well as other colleges in the area, as we have seen a significant reduction since 2013. The erosion of support means we are facing additional pressures.’

Portsmouth College has seen a surge in student numbers with around 400 new students joining in the past three years.

Simon Barrable, deputy principal said: ‘With the big increase of students we’ve had in recent years, it has eased the pressures on us and we’ve had great support from the city’s MPs in regards to funding which will also help us out.’