Liberal Youth Activate gives the new Liberal Youth leadership a renewed focus on Further Education

liberalyouthI write post Activate, Liberal Youth’s flagship training weekend. This year, it also included policy debates and constitutional amendments – two of which were on Further Education.

Liberal Youth’s leadership on Further Education has improved significantly over the past year, with Freshers Fairs conducted in FE institutions for the first time, as well as training for regional chairs on how to engage with Further Education students in their areas.

I’ve demanded much better from the Liberal Youth Executive for 6 years, arguing that setting our foundations in Further Education would make the Liberal Democrats totally unique from other parties. The discussions around tuition fees have been had, and had again. It’s time to move on.

If we are going to truly change the education system into one where every student has the ability to become whoever they want to be, we need to appreciate that Further Education is the vehicle to make that happen – Apprenticeships, Work Based Learning, ESOL, BTECs, A Levels are all a part of the #FEparty. What’s more, if social mobility is going to be a core of future changes in education, Liberal Democrats must be a part of shaping it. I fundamentally believe that Liberal Youth can initiate that ground-breaking change within our party.

At Activate, we agreed two really important steps.

The first was to campaign to improve the replacement for Educational Maintenance Allowance in England. It stopped short of saying EMA was wonderful, respecting that while it did make a difference to those students who genuinely needed the support, it was given to some who didn’t need it. It attacked the Department for Education for using poor sampling to justify the decision to scrap EMA, and warned that the proposed rise in the education leaving age to 18 in 2015 will put extreme pressure on EMA’s replacement. A line in the motion to join up with the National Union of Students on relevant campaigning was removed, with delegates complaining that the NUS leadership doesn’t represent Lib Dem students and doesn’t even seem to want to. The motion forces future LY Executives to keep every one of its Conferences updated on the work being done on Further Education.

Secondly a new Further Education Working Group is to be set up, made up of people selected by the Liberal Youth Executive for their experiences. This group has some key aims; supporting the Liberal Youth executive in challenging the party on its Further Education policy (or lack of), bringing forward future policies to Liberal Youth Conferences, challenging Liberal Youth on its engagement with Further Education students, working with any relevant working groups or committees within the Liberal Democrat federal structure and reporting back to Liberal Youth Conference.

Both are a major breakthrough for those, like me, who have campaigned for years for Liberal Youth to begin owning the agenda on Further Education. It shows that the arguments for change on this issue in Liberal Youth have been won, and now is the time to engage in proper debate with the federal party about what we want Further Education to look like.

* Callum Morton is leading the buzz around the #FEparty hashtag and works in Tom Brake MP’s office as an apprentice.

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4 Comments

  • Jonathan Brown 2nd Jul '13 - 6:14pm

    Very interesting – and sounds very positive too.

  • Graham Evans 2nd Jul '13 - 10:26pm

    As a governor of a FE college for many years I welcome the proposal for the Lib Dems to become more actively involved in the sector. However, a major difference between FE and HE concerns the age distribution. Most full-time FE students are in the 16-18 age cohort, and it can be very difficult to get many of this group to engage even in student union affairs (e.g. serving as student governors), much less becoming involved in party political activities. On the other hand, more mature students will often be attending college perhaps no more than one a week, and college for them has much less of a social importance than for a university student. Things may be different in some of the very large FE institutions, where the sheer weight of numbers could provide a core of activists, but in small and medium sized institutions with turnovers of less than £20 million per annum political activity may be an up-hill struggle. Obviously, if the intention is to simply discuss at a national level FE policy, then this will no be an issue, but on the other hand FE is a much more complex and diverse sector than either schools or universities.

  • Callum Morton 3rd Jul '13 - 8:14am

    Thanks Jonathan!

    Graham, I totally appreciate everything you have said, and thanks for taking the time to contribute to this. I set up and lead a Students’ Union at my local FE College so I know first hand how difficult it is to get students interested in political affairs. However I often found that if you come to them with an issue they care about, they will sign up in large numbers. Often at freshers stalls we just stand behind the stall not doing anything. In FE you need to get out there and really grab students’ attentions. I know mature students aren’t in as often as the 16-18 cohort, but they do tend to attend Freshers if the college promotes it well enough. I think we need to alter how we engage with members when it comes to FE – when we go doorknocking and a young member answers who can’t vote, we should never ask for mum or dad, but get them interested. We also have problems in our party of ringing the homes of students too often, when they are trying to study or juggle work, and they get annoyed. We also need to look at how the party federally uses social media, as many students are on fb or Twitter. There’s lots of things we could be doing to engage people without demanding too much from mature students, for example. I’m just hoping we can get some decent FE policy so we can get out there!

  • Graham Evans 3rd Jul '13 - 11:22am

    Callum

    I don’t disagree with anything you have written, and indeed very much support your proposal that the Party should concentrate much more attention on the FE sector. This is very much a Cinderella area in terms of education. It hasn’t the prestige of the universities nor the sheer volume of the schools sector. Moreover, governments continually talk about the need to promote the sector, but very little changes. Matthew Hancock, the Minister for Skills, has just written to all FE colleges and talked about the latest initiatives which provide some clear steers as to where the sector should be heading. However those of us involved in the sector will recall similar documents being produced by governments on a regular basis. Specially there was:
    21st Century Skills: Realising our Potential (2003)
    Skills: Getting on in Business, Getting on in Work (2005)
    Raising Skills, Improving Life Chances (2006)
    Skills for Growth: The National Skills Strategy (2009)
    Investing in Skills for Sustainable Growth (2010)
    New Challenges, New Changes: Further Education and Skills (2011)
    Reform Plan: Building a World Class Skills System (2011)

    One of the things which I think the Party should specifically consider, even though it will be very unpopular with the schools lobby, is the fact that the funding for 16-18 year in FE is much less than in schools. Bringing the funding level of schools down to FE levels could produce significantly savings and force the schools sector to radically improve its efficiently, allowing the freed up resources to be devoted to other educational priorities.

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