The Scottish government has announced £60 million in Covid support funding for further and higher education institutions.
In her budget update statement yesterday, finance secretary Kate Forbes pledged £40 million in resource funding to help colleges and universities maintain research activity, protect jobs and help students. The remaining £20 million is for "additional capital to boost research and knowledge exchange".
FE, HE and science minister Richard Lochhead said he was “delighted a further £60 million of non-recurring Covid support has been announced by Kate Forbes for further and higher education and includes £20 million for research – valuable help at a challenging time for these fabulous sectors.”
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Karen Watt, chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said: “The Scottish Funding Council welcomes the additional funding announced today by the [finance secretary]. Although colleges and universities have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, they have shown resilience and adaptability in supporting students and continuing with vital research and knowledge exchange during these challenging times.
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“This additional funding will enable them to continue to play a vital role in supporting Scotland’s economic recovery and wellbeing.”
This morning, the Scottish government also announced that international students facing financial hardship as a result of Covid-19 could now access financial support from their college or university. Ministers have extended the eligibility for overseas students at colleges to access £3 million in support funds. Around 50,000 international (including EU) students enrol at Scottish colleges or universities each year.
Mr Lochhead said: “The impact on the pandemic on students has been severe, with challenges in gaining jobs, paying for housing or meeting other costs. This additional funding will help alleviate the financial pressure and stress facing many of our students.
“I am pleased that, after working closely with the sector, we are now able to open up the hardship funding to EU and international students, which has never previously been done, and any student with money worries should speak to their institution to find out more.”
Scotland's colleges, like institutions across the UK, are facing significant financial challenges – many exacerbated as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this month, the EIS, the union representing college lecturers in Scotland, opened a statutory industrial action ballot over the replacement of lecturer posts with lesser qualified and lower-paid positions. It will remain open until 25 February.
General secretary Larry Flanagan said: “We have opened a statutory ballot of our members in further education over the threat to lecturing posts in colleges across Scotland. Some colleges are seeking to cut costs by removing lecturer posts and replacing them with lower-paid and less qualified instructors or assessors. This approach would have a damaging impact on the quality of education provision across the college sector, which should be focusing on supporting educational recovery for students to help support future economic recovery across the country.”
Mr Flanagan added: “It is distressing that some colleges are attempting to use the current coronavirus pandemic as cover for this cost-cutting attack on lecturer jobs and on the quality of learning experience for students.”
A spokesperson for Colleges Scotland said it was disappointing that the EIS was choosing to ballot its members and encourage industrial action in the midst of a global pandemic.
"Staff and students have already had a very difficult and challenging year and it seems a great pity that further unnecessary disruption will be caused by the proposed EIS action," they said.
“We have made it clear to the EIS that there is no national plan to replace lecturers with tutor/assessor/instructor roles nor any other support staff roles.
“Tutor/assessor/instructor roles are not new to the college sector; they have been in place within colleges across Scotland for a considerable number of years, and it is acknowledged by all parties in this dispute that colleges use a variety of different learning and teaching methods designed to deliver a diverse curriculum which best suits the needs of the learner and the subject matter being taught.
“All roles, whether they be lecturing or support staff, are equally valuable and necessary to deliver the best learner experience and for the effective running of colleges. Each role is distinct and plays its own part in the successful operation of colleges."