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Cash carrot to keep up the impetus for change;Further Education;News amp; opinion

Executive's nest egg set to pay a dividend as ministers promise more to come, reports Neil Munro

NINE further projects have been approved by the Scottish Further Education Funding Council in the biggest pay-out to date from the council's pound;3 million nest egg to stimulate new departures in FE.

The fund was set up as a one-off allocation in February for "strategic developments". But the council moved quickly to announce that at least the same amount would be earmarked every year to encourage innovation, collaboration and expansion.

The council believes recurring support is necessary "to ensure that colleges are able to consider large-scale projects and plan for the longer term". Esther Roberton, convener of its strategic development committee, said: "Every single college in Scotland will need to explore how innovation and collaboration can help equip them to contribute to future economic and social development."

The committee expressed disappointment, however, that six colleges had shown no interest at all in bidding for the cash.

The new projects were announced on Wednesday by Nicol Stephen, Deputy Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister. The allocations bring to pound;2.3 million the sums committed under the special fund. Fifteen projects have been agreed out of the 18 bids received.

Angus College plans to open up a centre serving North Angus and the Glens, Banff and Buchan will expand into its rural hinterland, James Watt aims to establish the Arranton learning centre on Arran, Sabhal Mor Ostaig on Skye will establish a Columba Centre on Islay and Thurso is to set up an FE college in Dornoch.

Three ventures classed as innovative which have won support are a Lanarkshire colleges call centre run by Coatbridge College, a Scottish microelectronics skills consortium operated by James Watt College and a joint initiative by Jewel and Esk Valley College and the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

The "collaboration and rationalisation" fund will support Stevenson College in Edinburgh "to improve the quality of teaching and learning through the production of flexible learning units."

Three other projects are still being finalised but are likely to be approved.

The first tranche of cash was approved by the funding council in July to confirm earlier ministerial decisions. This handed out pound;260,000 for FE provision in Argyll, pound;100,000 for an FE centre in Benbecula run by Lews Castle College, and pound;150,000 for the new Haddington site of Jewel and Esk Valley College.

Although the funding council has agreed to the long-term establishment of a strategic fund, it feels it needs much more information on the supply and demand for FE before committing any further cash.

A study by Napier University earlier this year showed that most FE students were within travelling distance of a college, although there were gaps. The SFEFC now wants to know whether there is any demand in these "gaps".

The council has also decided to carry out a fact-finding review to uncover the extent of innovation in teaching and learning, particularly the application of technology. It believes these two reviews will better inform its future spending decisions.

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