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Dream college hopes to launch with a thousand students

Just pound;150,000 stands between Argyll and the establishment of further education in the area. Michael Breslin, who is in charge of the Argyll College project, is confident it can be realised in a matter of weeks. But capital costs of pound;2.8 million have already had to be scaled back to pound;1.5 million because of a shortfall in European funds.

The project, which will deliver courses largely through Perth and James Watt Colleges, had intended setting up centres in nine areas with IT links as a major feature - Dunstaffnage where the marine research laboratory would develop into marine science teaching, Oban, Lochgilphead, Campbeltown, Dunoon, Rothesay, Tiree, Tobermory and Islay.

Mr Breslin, who has been seconded from his job as head of training at Argyll and the Islands Enterprise (AIE), a major player behind the project, says the revised plan would involve dropping the Oban and Lochgilphead ventures and concentrating initially on where the need for FE is greatest, the Campbeltown area and the islands.

Argyll has benefited from some FE provision, largely by James Watt and Clydebank Colleges, but the project's business plan suggests this has been "narrow, without clear progression routes and on offer subject to the availability of extra sources of funding".

Now the planners believe there is enough demand for up to 1,000 students to enrol on Argyll College courses in its first three years, creating 18 full-time jobs. The take-up of FE by students aged 19 and over in the area is half the Scottish average, compared with higher education participation which is only a third less than the national figure.

"The lack of further and higher education facilities is a significant constraint to fulfilling the potential of the area's people," Ken Abernethy, AIE's chief executive.

The college will be part of the University of the Highlands and Islands network, which has received a pledge of pound;33 million from the Millennium Commission, of which pound;811,000 is earmarked for Argyll.

Significant problems remain to be overcome, however, as research by the Pieda consultancy discovered. There is not enough business demand for training which will therefore have to rely on individuals in the early stages, it reported.

But low wages locally could mean insufficient fee income. The Argyll area had the second highest number of income support and housing benefit claimants of any district in Scotland in 1994, and the college expects to have no more than half of students paying the full fees.

The college business plan also acknowledges there will be competition from other providers : distance learning opens up the field. But Mr Abernethy believes that the framework proposed for Argyll College, combining vocationally based learning, research and IT, is a winning concept.

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