As a former student of Filton Technical College in Bristol, I am determined we treat further education colleges with the seriousness they deserve.
College – and my economics teacher Charalambos Stamboulieh – helped make me who I am today, the first FE chancellor of the exchequer. I attended a comprehensive school in Bristol; my eldest brother, Tariq, had left school at 16 and gone straight into work. Nobody in my family had attended university. But then I started hearing about university from my cousin it sounded pretty appealing, and I wanted to keep my options open.
My brother had returned to education as a mature student at the same college to do a BTEC qualification and my second eldest brother, Khalid, went straight there from school. That’s how I heard about it. And unlike my school sixth form, Filton said I could study three A-levels, promising me success if I put the work in. If I’d not had that opportunity to study economics, maths and computer science, I doubt I would have had the honour of becoming chancellor, or the chance to pursue a career in business that took me all over the world.
It was at college I met the first of my great mentors – Mr Stamboulieh, or Charles to his students. He didn’t just teach economics, he ignited my desire to go to university to study economics – and gave me the confidence to know I could do so.
The challenges facing young people today are different to those I faced: they will enter working life as technology revolutionises the face of industry and with emerging economies changing the global economy. Those changes have made FE colleges more important than ever to the life-opportunities of our young people. Many of them will work in entirely new industries, such as preventing and mitigating climate change, and many more will work in fields we have not even thought of yet.
As Britain leaves the EU on 31 October good colleges are vital to develop the skills and training necessary to help our young people on the road to a brighter future. To deliver on that in the spending round next week I am going to invest a further £400 million in education for 16- to 19-year-olds next year – the biggest increase for a decade.
It will mean we can support the delivery of the new T-Level qualifications rolling out in September 2020. These two-year courses, in subjects as varied as accounting, digital production and construction, will change the face of vocational education in this country. We’ll also be able to spend more on expensive courses including vital STEM subjects. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics open the door to well-paid jobs. It will mean more students becoming eligible for the advanced maths premium, adding £600 to college budgets for every additional student who takes on A- and AS-level maths. And it will also mean more investment in the inspiring teachers we need to fuel the dreams and aspirations of pupils – and to change lives.
Most importantly I want this investment to start to end the snobbishness in some quarters about the quality and importance of a vocational education. It was a FE college that equipped me with the qualifications needed to pursue my ambitions. And my two brothers who preceded me into college show that people who use their hands as well as their heads can use their qualifications to become incredibly successful in terms of jobs and financial security.
When we look ahead to our economic and productivity challenges, further education will be vitally important to train and teach our young people in the skills they need for modern businesses. From engineering and IT to creative industries, it will be technical ability that will be crucial for many of our future generations to access higher wage jobs. Look at other countries and you don’t see this problem. In Germany, if you go to college or you do an apprenticeship, that is viewed as highly as going to university.
Further education, like all our public services, is a lifeline of opportunity for our young people. We’ll make a strong statement in backing it at next week’s spending round and I’ll continue to look at what more we can do to help, just as my FE college opened my horizons and set me on my way. Thank you, Charles.
• Sajid Javid is the chancellor