“Careful consideration” will be given to the role of colleges as the country rebuilds after the coronavirus pandemic, Scotland’s new FE minister has said.
Speaking at today’s College Development Network (CDN) College Expo 21, Jamie Hepburn said the Scottish Funding Council’s (SFC) ongoing review of the coherence and sustainability of further and higher education institutions would form “an important part in the Scottish government’s thinking on the future strategy for tertiary education in Scotland”.
“We recognise that collective action and tough decisions are required. That’s why we must give careful consideration to the role of our colleges. But I am clear that colleges are central to Scotland’s future success and at the heart of our recovery efforts,” he said.
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Mr Hepburn said that Scotland had to rebuild its economy in a way that delivered a greener, more just society. Recent government investment was part of its ambition for “a successful recovery that sees no one left behind”, he added.
Colleges 'at the heart of Covid recovery efforts'
“That will require a heavy focus on employability and skills, and investing in jobs will be key,” said Mr Hepburn.
“Through the Young Persons Guarantee and the National Transition Fund, the college sector will play a crucial role.”
Mr Hepburn said that considering the pace of the Covid vaccine rollout and its effect on transmission rates, he was “hopeful that although there will, of course, still need to be some measures in place to help prevent transmission, the student experience in the autumn will be more normal”.
He added that he did not underestimate the immense challenges that lie ahead of the sector.
“I know that as we look to our colleges as anchor institutions to rise to these challenges, you might be asking yourself, ‘What is the government doing to support us?' So I give you this personal commitment today: to work in partnership with you all in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration to create the environment for the creative thinking required to ensure Scotland recovers from the pandemic stronger than ever before.
“I want you to all feel that you are in the driving seat of this journey, you are not merely a passenger. And there is no doubt in my mind that you will all rise to this challenge.”
Mr Hepburn also announced that Tes FE Awards teacher of the year 2020 Helena Good would be inducted into the CDN College Hall of Fame. In her subsequent keynote speech, Ms Good said she believed that “creative bravery is essential when designing alternative futures”.
Mr Hepburn was appointed minister for higher education and further education, youth employment and training in May, following the Scottish parliamentary election. He was previously business minister with responsibility for apprenticeships, and took over from Richard Lochhead, who is now minister for just transition, employment and fair work.
Only days later, the Scottish Funding Council announced that colleges would see their funding from the Scottish government increase by more than 9 per cent in a year. Colleges will receive £712 million in 2021-22, an uplift of more than £60 million from last year.
The sector is awaiting the report on the Scottish Funding Council’s landmark review of the coherence and sustainability of further and higher education institutions.
This, SFC chief executive Karen Watt said last year, “should lead to fundamental change over time” – and could include mergers or closures and more formalised collaboration between universities and colleges.