Education & Family

College faces cuts anger over funding changes

UCU campaign
Image caption The lecturers' union is opposing compulsory redundancies

The mood among staff at Richmond upon Thames College in south-west London is angry.

They have already walked out in a half-day strike over plans to cut about 70 teaching posts to fill a £3m hole in college finances.

But tackling this deficit caused by cuts to adult learning budgets, rising staff costs and a shortfall in student numbers, is only part of the picture.

College principal David Ansell is also preparing for a possible reduction in student numbers by as much as 40% over the next few years from 4,185 to a minimum of 2,400.

Along with the tighter financial climate, he fears strong competition for students from new sixth forms and academies with smart new buildings.

Student numbers

Mr Ansell is also deeply concerned about the loss of students coming from other London boroughs.

Local councils are taking over the commissioning of further education services, and many want to keep their students at colleges and schools in their own local authority area.

This is a particular concern for colleges in London, where some boroughs are actively setting targets for this.

This combination of pressures has prompted college principals in the 157 Group of larger, high-performing colleges to suggest up to a third of England's colleges could form mergers or federations.

A second strike, due to take place on Thursday at Richmond, was cancelled after Mr Ansell pledged to delay any redundancies until September

The University and College Union is opposing compulsory redundancies.

UCU representative and philosophy teacher Stephen Grant said staff were unhappy with the way the details have filtered through to them.

"There's a tremendous sense of anger because we feel like we've been treated by a culture of contempt.

He questions Mr Ansell's predictions about the threats facing Richmond College.

"We realise that there are genuine fears about what's going to happen but surely waiting to see what happens is the right thing to do."

Funding changes

Students too are angry, with some worrying that they may not have a place next year. Student union equality and diversity officer Pedro Diogo said: "Our main concern is that there will be a knock-on effect on our education.

"We are very concerned that many courses will not run over the next few years."

With more than 60 A-levels and numerous vocational courses, this spread was what makes Richmond a great place to study, he added.

The new coalition government will set out its spending plans in an emergency budget and then in the comprehensive spending review in the autumn.

It has already indicated that there will be extra investment for further education.

Mr Ansell denies a lack of consultation and says he will not resume planning for changes, and a possibly reduced student population, until the autumn when the intentions of the new government are clear.

He admits that one of the possibilities is a merger or much closer working with a neighbouring college and other educational providers. This is a possible solution he has raised internally with governors.

A document he wrote describes the "ideal scenario" as a single college on two sites within the borough of Richmond.

Unconvinced

He adds: "There are absolutely no formal discussions taking place at the moment, but what I was suggesting in the paper is that this college ought to be thinking about how education is best provided in Richmond in the broadest sense."

"If we are going to do that, clearly the two colleges need to be thinking and working together.

Geology co-ordinator and parent, Mick Wright, is not convinced.

"Three of my children have gone through this college... They are all going to higher education. My worry is that the stability this college has provided won't be there for the fourth one."

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