Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

No Assurances on Future of North East Colleges

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

No Assurances on Future of North East Colleges

Article excerpt

Byline: Jonathan Walker Political Editor jon.walker@trinitymirror.com

MINISTERS have refused to give assurances that North East colleges won't be forced to merge or close.

Nick Boles, the government minister responsible for further education, accused many of the region's Labour MPs of trying to raise fears about the future of North East colleges, in a heated Commons debate.

But he also warned that colleges had to change and accused MPs of a "stick-in-the-mud" attitude.

He was speaking in a 90-minute debate on the future of colleges in the North East which was led by Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman.

It was prompted by the Government's announcement last year of a series of reviews of further education in each region.

In a document published last year, Mr Boles said: "Overall, we need to move towards fewer, larger, more resilient and efficient colleges."

Speaking in the debate, Labour MPs and Conservative Anne-Marie Trevelyan, MP for Berwick, highlighted the essential work North East colleges do preparing students for the workplace - and said mergers or closures would be a particular problem in the North East because colleges tended to be far apart.

While densely populated London or Birmingham might have a number of colleges near each other, students in parts of Durham or Northumber-land might have only one college nearby, MPs said.

But the debate became heated when Mr Boles replied with an attack on the Labour MPs, and refused to allow them to intervene to ask questions.

Mrs Goodman said further education was particularly important to the North East because the region did not have enough skilled workers but employers were creating more jobs.

She said: "3,500 construction jobs will be created each year between now and the next election."

The MP added: "That's why we are extremely concerned by the prospect of reviews which destabilise and threaten the FE colleges."

Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah said she agreed with the Government's goal of ensuring colleges worked as effectively as possible but insisted: "Further Education colleges in the North East already both work together and are forward looking. …

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