300 students have lost course provision from Lewisham and Southwark College (LeSoCo) after the college closed its Camberwell site in a bid to save money.
The college’s governors voted overwhelmingly in favour of the motion in July. It has also threatened up to 200 forced redundancies, with fifty voluntary redundancies already having been taken.
Southwark Council had also intended to temporarily shut down the two Southwark campuses, as it planned to demerge LeSoCo, allowing businesses and private providers to run the college courses. However this proposal was rejected by the Further Education Commissioner, Dr David Collins, earlier this month.
The Camberwell campus was used by 300 students learning basic skills and ESOL (English as a second other language). The majority studying there were mature students, primarily migrants from Africa and South America, and were often referred to the college by Job Centres. Due to a lack of space and funding these students will be unable to transfer to other LeSoCo campuses. College closure of campus puts migrants at risk.
The decision to close the campus has been met with opposition from students and lecturers who argue that many migrants will now be unable to learn English.
Patricia, a lecturer in ESOL at LeSoCo said people “want to learn and develop their English – this is the only centre for the two communities Southwark and Lewisham in this part of the borough.”
Jeffrey, a colleague of Patricia’s at LeSoCo, claimed that it is migrants that have been the hardest hit by the cuts. He describes the ESOL and basic skills classes at LeSoCo as “vital…to socialise new migrants into this country successfully into our society, so they can contribute in the way that they so willingly want to.”
There is also concern that this disadvantages children of the adult learners who may no longer have the opportunity to grow up around fluent English speakers.
In July staff, students and local residents occupied Camberwell campus, calling for a reversal of cuts to course places, staff jobs, ESOL provision, and the selling of the Camberwell campus.
Joining them was the NUS VicePresident Further Education Shakira Martin, who was previously head of LeSoCo SU. She said that the “decisions made by the college governors and by the local authority to shut down and privatise parts of the college” were “to the detriment of both staff and students”. She told us that it had been migrants and BME students hit hardest, “100%”.
While the government has protected education spending for 5 to 15 year olds, funding for adult education has decreased 24%. The Association of Colleges, an advocacy group which represents 95% of colleges across the UK, warned earlier this year that “190,000 course places for people aged 19 and over could be lost next year alone” and that “adult education and training in England will not exist by 2020 if the Government continues with its swathe of cuts to the adult skills budget”.
The National Institute of Adults Continuing Education has agreed with this analysis, with their chief executive David Hughes encouraging people to go to college early, as “once they’re 21, there won’t be any support left”. In June, labour market expert Alison Wolf claimed FE cuts could see the UK facing a major skills shortage