COLLEGE bosses have joined forces to fight huge cuts which could affect job hunters in South Tyneside.
The Skills Funding Agency has announced a national cut of 24 per cent in its funding for adult learning for 2015/16.
South Tyneside College is one of 16 further education colleges across the North East where, in an unprecedented move, principals have joined forces with union leaders to lobby publicly against the cuts.
A spokesperson for South Tyneside College said: “The reduction in allocation facing our adult education budget is about 1.7 per cent of our total income.
“We are closely examining which areas of our curriculum may be affected – and if that will affect any staff.
“The college is following all appropriate procedures and will be working closely with the unions to ensure any reduction in provision is as minimal as possible.”
The colleges are warning the cuts could mean thousands of people across the North East could lose the chance of retraining for new job opportunities.
They say the £460m national reduction will result in swathes of adult education courses being removed.
These will include employability programmes that are crucial in enabling unemployed adults to access the labour market, and in helping tackle social and economic exclusion.
As well as vocational courses that develop the practical skills demanded by employers such as engineering, manufacturing, health and social care, and construction.
The 16 colleges, which include South Tyneside, Sunderland, East Durham and New College Durham, have written to MPs asking for questions to be tabled in Parliament, and signed a nationwide petition led by the University and College Union (UCU), which has thousands of signatories.
Students and the business community are also being urged to support the campaign.
Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “The fact that colleges in the North East have come together to campaign against the cuts demonstrates what a big issue it is for them.
“Adult education and training is effectively being decimated. It is too important to be lost and these cuts could mean an end to the vital courses that train people in the North East, such as nurses and social care workers.”
Union leaders have also reacted furiously to the announcement with the UCU describing it as “an act of wilful vandalism”.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “These cuts are a devastating blow to colleges and risk decimating further education.
“Slashing budgets this harshly could be the final nail in the coffin for the types of courses that help people get back to work.”
David Hughes, chief executive of adult education body NIACE, said: “My fear is that these cuts mean people’s ability to get on in life and work continue to be hampered, despite the obvious return on investment to the taxpayer.
“It’s not fair for people, it’s not right for businesses and it doesn’t support the inclusive growth that politicians say they are seeking.”