College performance: Success rates rise in 2019-20

The Scottish Funding Council has published new data on college performance in 2019-20

Julia Belgutay

The Scottish Funding Council has published new data on college performance

Half of colleges saw an increase in the proportion of students successfully finishing their further education courses in 2019-20, new data from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) has found. 

The data, from the SFC’s college performance indicator publication, said in 2019-20 that, of the 26 colleges delivering full-time FE courses, 13 had improved success rates in comparison to the previous year, while the other 13 saw a decline.

Overall, 65.7 per cent of full-time FE students successfully completed their course, 0.5 percentage points higher than in 2018-19. As a result of improving success rates, 2,188 additional full-time FE students successfully completed their course in 2019-20 in comparison to 2008-09.

Meanwhile, of the 15 Scottish colleges delivering full-time higher education courses, 12 had improved success rates in comparison to the previous year and three saw a decline in the proportion successfully completing their course.

Almost three-quarters of full-time higher education students successfully completed their course – a 3.6 percentage point increase on the previous year – and a further 11.6 per cent completed their course but did not achieve the qualification they were aiming for. The SFC said, as a result of increases in student numbers and improving success rates, 5,939 additional full-time higher education students successfully completed their course in 2019-20 in comparison to 2008-09.


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The SFC’s report, which also sets out the impact of Covid on the college sector in Scotland, said that, in order to provide analysis of student performance in 2019-20, this year’s publication had been delayed to allow the inclusion of as many “deferred” student outcomes completed in the next academic year (2020-21).

“However, unfortunately, with the second wave of the pandemic hitting the country in early October 2020, a number of the mainly practically assessed courses – in subjects such as engineering, construction, hair, beauty, social care and childcare – could not be completed as on-campus practical activity and essential work placements were again suspended,” the report said.

In the college sector, the number of students unable to complete their course of study in 2019-20 owing to the pandemic was 18,457, the SFC said, but, by the end of January 2021, 11,440 of the 18,457 students were able to be complete. It is expected that of the 7,017 students still to complete their 2019-20 courses, many will be able to complete by the end of this summer.

Further findings:

  • 45,876 full-time further education students enrolled on recognised qualifications in 2019-20.
  • 65.7 per cent successfully completed their course.
  • A further 13.1 per cent completed their course but did not gain the qualification they were aiming for.
  • 21.2 per cent of full-time FE students withdrew from their course.
  • Of the 26 colleges delivering full-time FE courses in 2019-20, 13 had improved success rates in comparison to the previous year and 13 saw a decline in the proportion successfully completing their course.
  • For large colleges, success rates ranged from 58.9 per cent to 72.2 per cent in 2019-20.  
  • For small colleges, the success rates ranged from 54.3 per cent up to 75.4 per cent.
  • 31,847 full-time higher education students enrolled on recognised qualifications in 2019-20.
  • Student withdrawals reduced in 2019-20 – likely, in part, a result of the pandemic lockdown restrictions.
  • Full-time higher education success rates ranged from 68.3 per cent to 82.3 per cent in 2019-20.
  • Of the 15 colleges delivering full-time higher education courses, 12 had improved success rates in comparison to the previous year and three saw a decline in the proportion successfully completing their course.

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said: “Colleges have worked incredibly hard over the past year to support students to complete their courses in exceptionally difficult circumstances. It is hard to make comparisons with previous years given the impact of the pandemic. However, it is testament to colleges that the sector still exceeded its activity targets.

"Overall, the sector has risen to the challenges of lockdown and public health guidelines, and that is reflected in the high proportion of students successfully completing their courses. The pandemic is not yet over and there are, undoubtedly, still some challenges ahead. However, the college sector will continue to support students, communities, employers and play its part in inclusive economic recovery.”

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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