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Higher-level Skills

Volume 603: debated on Tuesday 15 December 2015

I am sure the whole House will want to join me in sending its best wishes to Major Tim Peake, who successfully blasted off towards space just 30 minutes ago. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

We are reforming technical education and establishing clear routes into higher-level skills and employment. We are spending £2.5 billion on apprenticeships—double the amount in 2010—and £1.5 billion on adult skills, growing degree and higher apprenticeships and establishing specialist colleges.

I join the whole House in sending the Secretary of State’s good wishes to our fellow countryman.

Under the Conservatives, Lincoln’s improved educational map offers the young people of Lincoln myriad—nay, a plethora of—opportunities. Does the Secretary of State agree that prioritising funding for young adults, the low-skilled and those actively looking for work is the right thing for a Conservative Government to do?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who I know cares passionately about skills for young adults. He will be pleased to know that we rightly prioritised spending on further education in the recent spending review, which will enable colleges, such as Lincoln college in his constituency, to offer more to young people.

Further education colleges are vital for apprenticeships in engineering and construction, in which there is an acute shortage of skills across the country. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the cuts in funding to FE colleges in terms of delivering this much-needed agenda?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is talking about cuts in FE spending. I know that is what Labour was scaremongering about just a few weeks ago, but we have actually protected the adult education budget in cash terms, we will double spending on apprenticeships by 2020 and we have extended the availability of advanced learner loans. Taken together, this will mean a 35% real increase in FE spending by 2020 compared with this year.[Official Report, 5 January 2016, Vol. 604, c. 1-2MC.]

22. I welcome the removal of the cap on university places, but what assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the effect on further education colleges, such as Wiltshire college in my constituency, given that they are fishing from the same pool in terms of vocationally based diplomas and apprenticeships?


I welcome my hon. Friend’s question. We have seen an increase in that, especially in FE colleges that offer higher education courses, which is exactly the kind of diversity and growth we want.

But as ever, it is smoke and mirrors with this Secretary of State. He knows that the Chancellor has announced an extra £360 million of savings from the adult skills budget, so will he come clean and tell us where those cuts will be made?

The Department will shortly issue a skills funding letter answering some of the hon. Gentleman’s questions, but perhaps he missed the point that I just made: the adult education budget is protected in cash terms, we will double spending on apprenticeships by 2020 and the FE budget will be up by the end of the Parliament in real terms.