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College places still under siege as demand outstrips supply

The pressure on college places shows no sign of abating.

As the recession continues to tighten its grip, forcing people to seek retraining, the latest survey shows the number looking for a further education course is up by 24 per cent on the same period last year - a rise of 22,065 applications.

Although this represents only 14 of the 43 colleges, it covers almost half the FE sector (47 per cent) in terms of student activity reflected by weighted student units of measurement (WSUMs). The survey was carried out by Scotland's Colleges.

The number of applications for non-advanced courses is up by 31 per cent, indicating that basic retraining is the priority for many; advanced programmes have seen a 24 per cent increase.

There is also appreciably higher interest from 25 to 34 year olds, whose applications have risen by 41 per cent; slightly further behind are 16- 18s, up 33 per cent. There is an increase of 29 per cent among the 19-24s and of 27 per cent from the 35-plus age group.

Some colleges are experiencing even more demand. Cardonald in Glasgow had received 47 per cent more applications by mid-August than it did at the same point last year - despite closing most of its courses during the summer after the most popular ones were filled. Before then, in the spring, the increase in applications had reached 67 per cent. Many courses have notched up even greater rises than that.

The college believes that the increase in the number applying to study Highers full-time, up by 61 per cent to 881 for only 300 places, points to concern among "people who are non-school leavers and vulnerable in terms of unemployment".

The Scottish Government has invested pound;28 million in FE colleges this year and next to help them cope with the pressures of the economic downturn - pound;16m to create the equivalent of 3,100 full-time places and pound;12m to improve facilities. There is, however, some controversy over how the Scottish Funding Council has distributed the cash (TESS last week).

Christina Potter, principal of Dundee College, where applications are up by 20 per cent, said the new funding would allow it to run additional classes, both at National Qualification and Higher National levels.

Dundee has experienced interest across a broad range of programmes, including professional cookery, engineering, accounting, science and the creative industries, which all have employers in the local area.

Ms Potter, commenting as chair of the board of Scotland's Colleges, welcomed the increased funding from the Government and said the latest figures showed that the money would be well spent.

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