Under the radar, the Tories are planning to lump our education system with an unbearable bill

Who is going to pay the £300m in new pension costs facing universities and colleges?

There were zero mentions of – let alone additional funding for – further education in last month’s budget. So it was good to see MPs using a debate in the Commons this week to highlight a particularly worrying development. 

Labour’s Angela Rayner rightly raised the bombshell announcement of nearly £300m in additional costs about to hit college and universities, arising from changes the government is making to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS).

The Department for Education has so far suggested that the government will provide funding for one year only for schools and colleges to pay for the changes – but it isn’t clear whether all colleges are covered and there is no commitment at all for our universities.

Without an increase in funding to cover this massive increase in costs, there’s little doubt that students and staff will suffer once again, with many colleges and universities already in a precarious position.

A recent report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies demonstrated how funding for colleges had been cut “much more sharply” than any other area of education. While concerns have been raised about the finances of some universities, a fact the government is all too relaxed about despite the dramatic impact an institution going bust would have.

Of course, this is just the latest in a series of government policies which have damaged our vital colleges and universities. Huge cuts in core funding have left our college sector on its knees while universities are reeling from a system that has left students with record debts and staff suffering from pay cuts and huge levels of casualisation.

The chancellor must clarify the current position regarding pensions and confirm that all colleges and universities won’t suffer further funding cuts via the back door. The government should be supporting institutions, not increasing the pressure and then washing their hands when things don’t go to plan.

UCU called the chancellor out on his missed opportunity in the budget to properly address the urgent financial challenges facing post-18 education. But the government once more kicked the issue into the long grass of the Augar funding review.

That review – when it eventually reports – needs to do more than tinker.  We need a system where employers who benefit from a better educated workforce pay more. In further education we need urgent investment for a system that is fighting for its life.

We will continue to campaign for better funding and a more secure future for our members but we need a government that gets the bigger picture too.  Colleges and universities are crucial to our country’s future.

Of course they need investment, but they also need to be at the centre of any government’s strategy for our country – not an afterthought.

Matt Waddup, University and College Union head of campaigns and policy.

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