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Colleges offer more than flower arranging

Colleges are a critical part of our education landscape. For a huge proportion of our young people, colleges offer an alternative to higher education and the route to better skills and training, which allows them to access jobs that otherwise would have been beyond them.

But importantly, colleges have traditionally been a place for retraining and upskilling among the adult population. This role is less publicised and less understood. But nonetheless, it has been an invaluable route - often for women and mothers in particular - to begin the process of re-entering the job market.

That ladder back into employment has, however, been taken away from women across Scotland. Almost 120,000 fewer women are going to college than in 2007. Part-time courses, dismissed by the SNP as "flower arranging classes" have been slashed by nearly 200,000 places. Those figures are so staggering as to almost be unbelievable. But they are the reality. There has been a drop of 37 per cent in places at colleges since the SNP came to power. That is nothing short of a systematic dismantling of further education in Scotland.

So we need to re-evaluate what we want from post-16 education. Scotland needs a vibrant and thriving FE sector. Instead of an incessant focus on higher education fees, we need to discuss how we fit our educational requirements to employment and skills needs.

But that must take place in an environment where politicians begin to have an honest discussion about our colleges. The fat, if you could call it that, has been cut. The bones of our colleges are showing. It's time that we stop starving them of cash and invest in their future. I fear the SNP, however, has set its face against a strong and successful college sector.

Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour's shadow cabinet secretary for education.

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