Chancellor Philip Hammond presented his spring budget in parliament. We’ve taken a closer look at today’s announcements and what they mean for students.

The underlying theme of today’s budget – the last of its kind at this time of year – was to prepare Britain’s businesses and workforce for life beyond Brexit once the government triggers Article 50.

Phillip Hammond promised a budget that would “extend opportunity to all our young people, deliver further investment in our public services” and “continue the task of getting Britain back to living within its means.”
Here’s a summary of the key announcements that will affect students…

Further Education

Hammond accepted that “we languish near the bottom [of global tables] for technical education” and said the government wanted England’s technical education system to match the excellence of its world-leading higher education system and announced:

  • £500m a year for college based technical training from 2019/20;
  • The introduction of ‘T-Levels’ – the government will begin to implement its previously announced ’15 routes’ through further education.
  • An increase in training by 50 per cent to 900 hours a year for 16-19-year-olds;
  • Extending maintenance loans to students on level 4-6 technical courses;
  • It was announced that learners on courses at ‘National Colleges’ and ‘Institutes of Technology’ will be able to access maintenance loans.
  • £40m for pilot schemes for lifelong learning, using the investment to test different approaches to help people to retrain and upskill throughout their working lives.

NUS has long campaigned for more funding for further education. While extra investment in a sector which has felt the full force of government cuts in recent years is welcome, we’re mindful that the motivation for these changes come from the government’s stark realisation that they need to invest more in technical education once Article 50 is triggered and we begin to lose a skilled international workforce.

Higher Education

A number of announcements were scattered throughout the Budget relating to higher education.

  • £300m for “research talent” through 1,000 PHD places and fellowships focused on Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects;
  • Maintenance loans will be made available to part time undergraduate students;
  • Loans will be made available to postgraduate students for doctoral study;
  • Plans for 110 new ‘free schools’, and for universities to sponsor these will be outlined in a forthcoming ‘schools white paper’.

Other topics of interest

Beyond FE and HE–specific announcements, a number of provisions within the Budget reflect issues that are consistently of concern for students.

  • Increase of the ‘National Living Wage’ to a minimum of £7.50 per hour, from April 2017;
  • £2bn for social care over the next three years;
  • £20m additional spending to tackle violence against women and girls
  • £5m to promote ‘returnships’ for parents returning to work;
  • £5m to projects around the centenary of the Representation of the People Act.

“While a commitment for further funding into further education is welcome, it doesn’t address the huge challenges the further education sector faces after years of devastating cuts, policy changes and withdrawal of vital student support such as EMA. Although the new proposed National Colleges will provide training opportunities for many people, it is vital that these new institutions are publically funded and funded well, making sure this provision is more sustainable than the governments failing University Technical Colleges. The needs of students should be at the heart of all decisions made as the Post 16 Skills Plan is implemented. The Chancellor claimed to not want to saddle our children with debt, yet we have seen no support and no relief for young people in terms of housing, the cost of living and wages in real financial terms.” – Malia Bouattia, NUS President

“The Chancellor’s announcement of extra funding of up to £500 million a year for college based technical training is overdue but enormously welcome. Between 2010 and 2015 the Association of Colleges estimated that college funding fell by 27 per cent and the sector simply could not have taken any further cuts. This funding will by no means solve all the difficulties the further education sector is faced with, but it is certainly a refreshing change.” Shakira Martin, NUS Vice President (Further Education)

“It’s very concerning that hidden away in the detail of the budget announcement, the government still intends to sell off pre 2012 student loans to the highest bidder. We welcome Consumers and Markets Green Paper as an opportunity to voice our concerns and make sure students and graduates loan terms and conditions are protected.” Sorana Vieru, NUS Vice President (Higher Education)

What happens next?

The Spring Budget has put education and skills at the front and centre of the government’s plans for the country’s future, particularly in anticipation of the UK’s exit from the European Union.

It will be vital that NUS, students and students’ unions continue to make the case for quality education, adequate protections and meaningful engagement with learners.