Sussex college boss says: ‘Young people are being short-changed’

Students at East Sussex College
Students at East Sussex College

The chief executive of an East Sussex college group said students are being short-changed in a call for better funding for further education (FE) colleges.

Clive Cooke, CEO of East Sussex College, spelled out the funding challenges, as staff and students got behind the ‘Love Our Colleges’ campaign this week, which aims to secure more money for FE colleges.

Clive Cooke, CEO of East Sussex College

Clive Cooke, CEO of East Sussex College

The campaign said over the last decade, colleges have faced up to 30 per cent in funding cuts while operational costs have increased.

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Mr Cooke said: “Our young people are being short-changed compared with their counterparts in other countries and compared with previous generations. The hours of teaching and support, the choice they have, and the enrichment they are offered have all reduced as funding cuts have bitten.

“It is also a real challenge for us to pay competitive enough salaries to recruit staff in key subjects such as maths, science, engineering, and computing. This cannot continue if we are to secure the future of our nation.”

The East Sussex College Group is the biggest education provider in the county, and is the result of a merger between Sussex Downs College and Sussex Coast College Hastings earlier this year. It has five main campuses: one in Eastbourne, one in Lewes, two in Hastings and one in Newhaven.

Students at the college have been recording messages to pledge their support to the campaign to call for a five per cent increase in funding from the government and explain to MPs why their college is so important to them.

Debra Bostock is a mature student who is studying Level 3 Hairdressing and says that college will help her to get back into work.

She said: “I was a little bit lost and wasn’t sure what direction to take to get back into work. I have been a mum for quite a long time, so really didn’t have a clue on how to get myself up and going again. College has given me the opportunity to refresh my skills, meet new people, given me valuable experience, and above all, given me the confidence to go back to work. It has put me back on track.”

Connor Brown is a BA (Hons) Fine Art student with cerebral palsy and says that the college has given him opportunities he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

He said: “Since being at college, I have had some great opportunities to support my learning. I’ve been able to visit lots of art galleries in London, such as the Tate modern, and I don’t think I wouldn’t have had the chance to visit these places by myself.”

Abbie Bowers is an A-Level student with the ambition to become a teacher, and said: “College allows me to delve deeper into topics that I enjoy and it gives me the opportunity to do what I want to do in the future. My goal is to become a teacher, so I have to have college to help me get there.”

Zak Prevett, a Level 3 Public Services student, said: “Since I have been at college we have had the chance to experience lots of outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and rock climbing. I’ve also had the chance to undertake a month-long work experience placement in Seville, which was incredible.”

Cheree Cornford is studying a Level 2 Health and Social Care course and says that college has given her confidence and helped her to decide what she wants to do in the future.

She said: “If I didn’t have the opportunity to come to college then I wouldn’t be able to gain the experience and knowledge I need to pass my course and I wouldn’t be able to work towards the career that I want.”

Mr Cooke has also written a letter to the local MPs to highlight ‘years of funding cuts’ and invite them to visit the college’s campuses during open days to see the work that they do.

A petition to increase college funding has also been set up. If the petition hits 10,000 signatures the government must respond to it, and if it reaches 100,000 signatures it will be considered for debate in parliament.

To find out more, visit: petition.parliament.uk/petitions/229744