Further education, the all-important part of our education system, is often forgotten or ignored in favour of higher education. After secondary school education, some students are unable to pursue higher education due to lack of finances or time and opt for further education. In as much as it is important since it is job-oriented and teaches technical skills, students pursuing further education may feel left out.
Further education offers numeracy and literacy skills that may be the basis of a person’s re-entry into education; it may teach technical and vocational skills useful in the job market and make the student more desirable to employers; further education may be used as a stepping stool to higher education by some undergraduates. This only serves to emphasize the significance of further education in the country, while making a case for its continued support from the government.
The government is adopting education policies that largely favor higher education, in the name of raising the education standards and competing with powerhouses such as the United States and Germany. This, however, has an outcome that is opposite of the intended one. The skills taught in further education are important in our economy, as the graduates can easily work in any industry they trained for. It is a great investment that results in greater productivity and improved skills.
While the expansion of the higher education system is good for the development of the country, ignoring those in the middle, those that join further education institutions, is detrimental to that same goal. It results in a large group of people who feel left out of the system; people whose upward development is inhibited by their choice of school (FE institutions.) Most employers tend to prefer those that have graduated from universities, not realizing that those who graduate from further education institutions also have the skills required to work.
Recent governments have largely focused on those on top of the ladder, those that join universities instead of colleges. The differences in government funding given to those in colleges and those in universities highlight the importance attached to higher education at the expense of further education. Students in colleges receive about £6,000 less annually than those in universities in public funding. This highlights the discrepancy between further education and higher education in terms of the attention and importance attached to them. This may be discouraging to anyone who does not have enough money to join a university and instead opts for a college.
A large percentage of those who successfully finish their high school education but do not join universities, instead opting for colleges, end up drifting through life, as they are largely ‘ignored’ by the government. They receive less funding compared to their counterparts in universities, and often receive poor career advice, as more attention is given to those that got As and joined universities. This then results in a large number of them getting employed and stuck in low-paying jobs, with no hope of career or professional advancement. The best jobs are reserved for university graduates, with little or no regard to the others that graduate with vocational skills from colleges.
The further education sector is facing a lot of problems, including reduced funding from the government, while the expectations of providing graduates who are fully equipped with skills to ease them into the job market are on the rise. The seventh technical college in the UK was closed earlier this year, and this only shows the rapid deterioration of technical education in the University Technical Colleges (UTCs). Many who were schooling are now stranded as their courses have been halted.
The government should formulate policies that help those that are pursuing further education. This includes giving them enough funding for paying their way through school, ensuring that there are jobs for them, and ensuring that there are enough colleges offering quality education instead of focusing on higher education only. The government should ensure that further education churns out the skilled workforce needed by employers, helping people to reach their maximum potential. The proposed T-Level system would be a good place to start, as it seeks to put technical education on equal footing with academic work, increase the students’ training hours by 50% to increase their skills, and overhaul the teaching methods in further education institutions.
If the government is serious about solving this problem, in addition to more funding it should ensure that there are enough teachers for the colleges and proper support; otherwise, the problems plaguing this sector will keep on repeating themselves year after year. The major stakeholders who make decisions on further education should include those that have experienced it, instead of having the major decision makers as people who have studied in top universities; who have little direct experience of it.