For most of last year Alistair Wylie, the college's senior lecturer in computing, drove once a week to Sauchie in Clackmannanshire to deliver three hours of computer training to a class of seven. There used to be more - three students disappeared, one died and another relapsed into addiction.
The course was for recovering drug and alcohol users working their way tentatively through the European Computer Drivers Licence as part of a community rehabilitation programme called Forth Dimension, run by Central Scotland Council on Alcohol.
Other activities include voluntary work and community projects, but Forth Dimension's manager, Ken Scott, says the computer component had a particular appeal. "It provides a focus in the week and we have clients who would like to access only this part of the programme, such is the perceived value of computer literacy."
Activity at Forth Dimension was all that remained of a larger programme which promised much when it launched in September 2000 with pound;44,600 of backing from the Scottish Further Education Funding Council's strategic development fund, topped up to pound;50,000 by Central College. The aim was to use computer education as a stimulus in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, targeting low self-esteem, lack of confidence and poor social skills.
Alistair Wylie became widely travelled during the pilot year, taking nine laptops in a hired van to provide guidance and tuition at six locations. "It meant one-to-one provision and a lot of personal support," he says. "The majority of clients had not been faced with any form of learning for some considerable time. For many, it was their first real chance to learn."
Core groups totalling around 18 students attended at Glasgow and Renfrew Councils on Alcohol, with a further 30 at the Phoenix House and Realise facilities in Glasgow.
Castle Craig Hospital at Blyth Bridge in Borders provided 22 residential students with widely differing backgrounds of drug and chemical dependency and ranging in age from 17 to 55. Attendance on Thursdays meant forfeiting free time or a shopping trip to Peebles.
However, when the strategic development funding ran out last summer, so did support from Central College. Only the Forth Dimension programme continued, financed by individual learning accounts. But this was brought to a premature end before Christmas with the axing of ILAs.
This has been a severe blow to Ken Scott and his clients in Sauchie. "The group is obviously quite difficult to work with at times, but the training was very much at their pace and level of ability," he says, underlining the fragility of those who attend.
"At one point we started a group at a local college and they only lasted one day. They were terrified by the classroom situation. People use drugs and alcohol for reasons which come to the fore again once they start stabilising and rehabilitating. You have things like abuse and physical or mental health problems to contend with.
"As a result, when the course was running well there tended to be seven or eight clients consistently working on it. But others tended to dip in and out, and at one point only two were participating. Again, that's the nature of the beast."
Peter Duncan, principal of Central College, concedes frankly that the decision to withdraw funding was part of a numbers game. "We have an expectation of regular attendance and fairly large groups, which obviously made this client group, with its small numbers and sporadic attendance, quite difficult from a management perspective. There's a limited pot to draw on, so by giving a lot of resources to a few you are denying many others."
He believes that the funding council's strategic development fund followed by mainstream financing may not be the right way of delivering further education to social inclusion clients.
"Some projects are about taking a risk and experimenting, and getting things embedded can take longer than a year. Nevertheless, people still deserve opportunity, and maybe for this particular client group the money shouldn't come from the funding council.
"Client organisations will say we are a highly cost-effective version of rehabilitation so, although the vehicle is further education, perhaps there should be a rethink with finance being drawn from the health education budget."