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Distress flare for fisheries courses

The future of the only navigation course for fishermen in a Scottish mainland college still hangs in the balance this week, following an inconclusive meeting in Aberdeen on Monday.

Banff and Buchan College decided last month it could no longer afford to run fisheries courses because of dwindling numbers, reinforced by the decommissioning of fishing vessels and the high costs of replacing radar and navigation equipment.

"There were elements of goodwill but nothing concrete as yet," Bob Sinclair, the college's principal, said after the meeting. Unless a solution can be found, the course will cease at the end of June - a prospect which has already drawn political fire from local MP Alex Salmond, the SNP leader.

Critics have in their sights principally the Scottish Funding Council, which was represented at Monday's meeting along with others from the fishing industry, the Scottish Executive's rural affairs department, the local enterprise company and the college.

Mr Sinclair said the funding council "unfortunately does not recognise the strategic importance of industries such as fishing to the rural economy". He said the threat to courses was evidence of "structural underfunding".

But the funding council maintains its well-rehearsed positions that all colleges are funded using the same formula, and that it funds general student activity not specific courses.

The council said after Monday's meeting that it was none the less ready to help with an allocation of strategic funding, but would expect the fishing industry to buy into any solution. At present, it does not provide any financial backing for fisheries training.

Ironically, Banff and Buchan emerged from the grant round for next session with the largest "remoteness" pay-out, pound;428,678. It is likely to see grant and fee income rise by 10.8 per cent next year.

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