North East Scotland College (NESCol) contributes more than pound;400 million to its local economy every year, highlighting the wider impact of the further education sector on the country's economic recovery, a new report has revealed.
The report calculates that the college generates an annual income of pound;406.5 million out of a government investment of just over pound;33 million. According to NESCol, that amounts to "a direct return on investment to the government of 17.9 per cent - far greater than the national average of 12 per cent".
The figures are based on the 2012-13 accounts of Aberdeen and Banff and Buchan colleges, which last year merged to form NESCol.
Most of the pound;400 million-plus sum is generated by former learners employed in the regional workforce. Together they contribute pound;360.9 million in added income annually, according to the study, which the college commissioned from Economic Modeling Specialists International.
Spending by the college and its staff comes to pound;38.7 million, while the remaining pound;6.9 million is made up of spending by non-local students at the further and higher education institution.
Learners themselves also benefit significantly from attending the college, according to the report, with every pound;1 they spend on their education yielding pound;5.80 in higher future wages.
Chair of the board Ken Milroy said that although the vital role played by schools and universities was well recognised, that of colleges could often be underestimated or overlooked.
"NESCol promotes regional economic growth through its own operations spending, through the spending of its non-local learners and through the increase in productivity as former learners remain active in the regional workforce," he said. "The impact of added skills in the regional workforce is by far the largest and most important impact of the college, stemming from higher incomes of learners and their employers".
Colin Crosby, chairman of the Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future public-private partnership, agreed that the college had a key role to play in ensuring that employers were able to hire people with the right skills.
Last year, colleges across Scotland merged to create larger institutions in line with the government's regionalisation agenda. Part of the rationale behind this was that the new colleges would be better able to support their local economies and target their offering to meet regional needs.
"This report is exciting evidence that through the creation of colleges of scale and influence, sharply focused on labour market need, the college sector is able to play a central role in growing our local and national economies," education secretary Michael Russell said. "I would like to congratulate the college and their industry partners on what is a clear endorsement of the value of their work."
A new welding centre was opened as part of the college's oil and gas training academy last year. Mr Russell said that he was "delighted to see these first-class facilities contributing to delivery of a further education system that is responsive to employer needs, maximises job opportunities for students and directly contributes to Scotland's economic prosperity".
He added: "We are already looking at how we expand on this further across Scotland with advanced apprenticeships and regional employer partnerships."
Shona Struthers, acting chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said the report provided "inarguable proof" that investing in colleges gave a significant return at regional and national levels.
She added: "Colleges Scotland will be campaigning for greater financial resources during this year's budget negotiations, so that we can continue to strengthen our contribution to Scotland's economy."
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said the teaching union welcomed confirmation that colleges made a significant contribution to their local economy, but stressed that the focus had to "remain on providing opportunities for students to gain qualifications and move on into employment. That should be the measure of success."