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The future of further education

Principal Lisa O'Loughlin sees in the new year with her predictions for further education in 2016

Like everyone I start the new year looking forward to seeing what opportunities 2016 will bring us.

The final months of 2015 saw education feature in the news locally and nationally, with a number of key announcements from government which I believe will have a direct impact on education here in Manchester over the next 12 months.

The Chancellor George Osborne announced that further education’s core funding would be protected in his Autumn Statement and I am hopeful that this will go some way towards creating the stability colleges need to continue to support people in improving their education and skills.

The end of 2015 also saw the government commence the Greater Manchester Area Review into the skills and education sector in our region. Along with the other further education and 6th form colleges in the region, we are centrally involved in this process and we expect the government to announce the findings from the review by late spring. This will be a key announcement by the government and one which will shape the future of education in the city and ultimately across the country.

We also learned much more about the apprenticeship levy on employers and how the funding of apprenticeships will work in the years to come.

All these matters are very important to us as a major learning provider in the city, to employers who want to employ people they know have received the best skills training, and to the people of Manchester who are looking to improve their education and skills. However we mustn’t get lost in the detail. What is important now is that we look at what really matters to us here in Manchester, that we focus on our communities and the role education plays in creating a workforce that will support the local economy. We mustn’t lose sight of the vital job further education does in providing a service to individuals and employers.

The future of further education is changing, and it has to, to make the sector more sustainable. I believe that in order to ensure that changes benefit us all, we need to take proactive steps to help shape the new landscape.  We need to work together to steer the changes in a positive direction. The combined authority are taking a lead role in driving the changes, working with local colleges and the area review team to make sure further education resources are developed, to create a further education and skills provision in Greater Manchester that is right for the future and linked to the needs of our students and employers.

The last few years in the education sector have been turbulent and challenging times. Whilst changes are still happening, we will continue to work alongside the colleges and 6th form colleges in Greater Manchester, and our partners in the local authority and area review team, to ensure the changes are positive for everyone, and I am cautiously optimistic that in 2016 we will begin to see a new and positive beginning for further education.