Students led a debate with three MPs to highlight the importance of colleges for economic development and social prosperity, as part of the national Love Our Colleges campaign.
The Hartlepool Sixth Form College students joined forces with their counterparts at Sunderland College to quiz the panel, which consisted of Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West and Shadow Minister for Public Health; Bridget Phillipson, Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South; Julie Elliott, Labour MP for Sunderland Central; and Ellen Thinnesen, Chief Executive of Education Partnership North East (created through the recent merger of Hartlepool Sixth Form and Sunderland College with Northumberland College).
The Love Our Colleges campaign calls on the Government for better investment and fair pay and aims to demonstrate why the Chancellor should ensure meaningful and sustainable investment of colleges in his Comprehensive Spending Review.
The students aged 16 to 18, who are studying a range of academic and professional and technical courses at Hartlepool Sixth Form and Sunderland College, were given the opportunity to discuss with the panel how important colleges are in developing a strong workforce in the region, what the panel can you do to help ensure colleges receive the investment they need, the consequences of a lack of investment in colleges and the impact of austerity in the further education sector affecting the future workforce and creating skills shortages.
Blessing Ihuoma, 18, who moved to Hartlepool from Nigeria, is studying A-levels in Law and Sociology and BTEC Music at Hartlepool Sixth Form College, said: “I was involved with the debate as I wanted to get to know the MPs representing us and gain a better understanding of what they are doing to help colleges. The Love Our Colleges campaign is an excellent idea and helps students to understand that there are people fighting their corner to ensure they have a great education and a chance to achieve their goals.
“In Nigeria, students have to jump from secondary school straight to university. I’m grateful that I have had the opportunity to attend Hartlepool Sixth Form, to find my feet and explore what I’m good at. I was aiming to progress to a career in law, however after coming to sixth form I have discovered a passion for sociology. Sixth form has transformed my life in helping me to decide what I want to do with my life and has allowed me to find the right pathway for me.”
According to research by the Association of Colleges, colleges have suffered an average of a 30% cut in funding over the last decade, during which time costs have increased dramatically.
This has had a detrimental impact on students, businesses, communities and the wider economy.
Colleges educate and train 2.2 million people every year. Through top-class professional and technical education, A-Levels, apprenticeships, higher education, basic skills or lifelong learning, colleges support people of all ages and backgrounds to fulfil their potential and achieve their ambitions.
Ellen Thinnesen, Chief Executive of Education Partnership North East, commented: “We were delighted for our students’ voices to be heard and to have the support of our local MPs during this vitally important campaign, which highlights the impact of further education colleges on our economies and communities.
“Further education colleges need to be able to respond to regional and national agendas and support central and local government to achieve its ambitions. However, a sufficient level of funding is required for colleges to provide a wide and responsive range of provision, lead innovation, drive forward skills agendas, build strong business partnerships and continue transforming lives and communities.”
The Love Our Colleges campaign is a partnership between Association of Colleges (AoC), National Union of Students (NUS), Association of College and School Leaders (ASCL), University and Colleges Union (UCU), Unison, GMB, TUC and National Education Union (NEU).