Great advances don't come from small change

A statement on Scotland's draft budget is not something that many people get excited about. And in many ways, last week's statement by finance secretary John Swinney was no exception.

It included all the usual rhetoric, stressing how the government's economic plans had been affected by Westminster cuts. Last month's vote on Scottish independence played a predictably significant part, with Mr Swinney highlighting the areas of the budget that addressed issues raised by the referendum.

But for Scottish further education, the draft budget statement was, as always, very significant (see pages 14-15). It contained the announcement of planned government funding for 2015-16 and therefore the financial direction the college sector would be heading in.

Government funding would be pound;526 million, Mr Swinney announced, also committing pound;16.6 million to take forward the recommendations of the Wood commission and pound;140 million to support the delivery of new college campuses in Fife and Forth Valley.

Angela Constance, training, youth and women's employment secretary, said: "Scotland's economy is growing steadily stronger and I believe that the draft budget will help even more of our young people to succeed in school, college or a wide variety of training options."

Although Mr Swinney's proposed FE budget was bigger than it has been in recent years, there was nevertheless a feeling of disappointment, maybe even resignation, among those close to the sector. Funding at this level was what was expected but not what was hoped for.

The various blows that colleges have had to cope with over the past couple of years have been covered in this column on many occasions - starting with huge budget cuts and going on to mergers and regionalisation.

These issues came on top of having to support the government in delivering its promise of a place in education, work or training for every 16- to 19-year-old. Colleges will now also play a big role in implementing the recommendations of the Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce - including closer cooperation with schools.

Of course, it is not as if colleges don't want to deliver the best possible opportunities for their students, and as many pathways into the world of work as possible. But how they can be expected to do it with the funding they are being handed is difficult to imagine.

For example, TESS has previously reported on the work-related stress many lecturers are facing, as well as growing class sizes and increasing numbers of students unable to secure places on their desired college courses.

The situation is unlikely to improve in the wake of Mr Swinney's announcement. The budget may not have made the situation any worse. But despite the small increase in overall funding, it is also very unlikely to make it significantly better. And that is a real shame.

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