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Colleges find that going European pays

The extent of the contribution European funds make to FE has again been demonstrated by the latest round of awards under the European Social Fund "objective 3" programme.

A total of 29 colleges will share just over pound;10 million from the programme, which is aimed at improving employability and supporting disadvantaged groups. Colleges and other training providers are funded to offer extended learning support, mentoring and job search skills.

This is part of a pound;42.7 million skills and training package which is set to benefit 376 projects across Scotland.

Many colleges have projects worth pound;1 million each. The largest handout in the current round is for Dundee College. Its pound;1.2 million ranges from pound;44,615 for an initiative for apprentices in the construction industry to pound;225,639 to improve skills in digital media.

But private players such as the Wise Group (pound;2.9 million), Momentum (pound;2.2 million) and the Prince's Trust (pound;1.1 million) are major competitors for such funds.

The cash trickles out on a rolling basis: Falkirk College's pound;445,810, for example, brings its total so far to pound;1 million. It plans programmes on skills employment, mentoring, "steps into learning", training care managers and technician training in biotechnology.

Susan Fox, the college's business contracts manager, said: "It creates a great opportunity for the college to attract a wide range of potential students from both the community and the workforce who may otherwise have been put off for financial reasons."

One such student is Jim McKeitch, a 42-year-old former firefighter who was discharged for medical reasons. Mr McKeitch has turned to nursing, but not without difficulty. He has a small pension from the fire service which made him ineligible for a bursary.

"The European Social Fund has been a lifesaver since I have received help with childcare costs, travel expenses, books and stationery," he says.

"Without it, I couldn't have gone to college - and now I am considering going to university."

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