An investigation by the Scottish Funding Council has found that Dunbartonshire, Lanarkshire and the Highlands and Islands have lower than average numbers taking part in further education.
Dunbartonshire colleges attract 30 per cent fewer enrolments per head of population than the average, Lanarkshire 28 per cent fewer and the Highlands and Islands 26 per cent. This compares, for example, with Glasgow at 93 per cent above the average.
There appears to be no obvious reason for the differences, although the funding council suggests that "a reason for low participation at colleges in an area may well be substantial participation at university".
Although the three areas with the lowest FE participation also have less involvement if advanced courses are included, the council notes: "It is relevant to look particularly at non-advanced provision as this is the critical first step for most learners who are not currently participating in post-school education."
The council has therefore decided to set aside pound;3.75 million to enable colleges in Lanarkshire and Dunbartonshire to target additional students, which will allow for fees to be waived and bursary support provided.
The colleges benefiting will be Motherwell, Coatbridge and South Lanarkshire in Lanarkshire, Clydebank in Dunbartonshire and Cumbernauld, which draws students from both areas. Around pound;300,000 will be earmarked for colleges in the mainland Highland area, which has the lowest participation figure in the north of Scotland for non-advanced students - 21 per cent below the average, compared with the highest area figure in Shetland where the headcount is 169 per cent above.
Colleges will be expected to use the cash to prepare collaborative action plans in each of the three areas to improve "participation, skills and employability".