Let's invest in success

Sue Pinder, principal of West Lothian College and convener of the principals' forum for the Association of Scotland's Colleges, looks ahead to 2007 with her own FE manifesto

NEW YEAR is always a time of renewal and hope, and in 2007 there may be more reason to hope than usual. Given that this is an election year in Scotland, it is a year that holds promise. Scotland's colleges have great expectations of the post-election parliament.

The principals' forum consists of 43 independent, incorporated colleges.

With just short of 27,000 staff and 450,000 enrolments in colleges located at the heart of local communities, we are a powerful voice and a force for change.

One in 10 of our population has benefited from a college programme, and 38 per cent of Scottish undergraduates begin their higher education with us.

In the 10 years up to 2005, we increased our vocational enrolments by 70 per cent, strengthening the skills of Scotland's workforce and expanding the economy at a local and national level.

In short, colleges are playing their part in the creation of a global Scotland. We have worked very closely with our local authorities, and with the Scottish Executive, to deliver what the Government has asked of us.

In anyone's book, further education in Scotland is a success story.

Scotland's colleges are a "can do" sector that has helped realise the aspirations of a devolved Scotland. So why do we at times feel our efforts pass unnoticed, our motives misunderstood, our purpose a mystery to all but the initiated?

These concerns are not unfounded. Pick up any local newspaper and you will find it filled with uplifting stories about the local college, reflecting a community that is proud of it and takes ownership of that success. But pick up the national press and - if you find a mention of colleges at all - you may find yourself, as I did recently, reading about your own college in less than flattering terms.

Scotland's colleges have been working with the political parties and their advisers in the lead-up to the election in order to get our message across.

It is a simple one: give us more, because we can do more and we want to do more.

In the past five years, the Scottish Funding Council has made major investments in college estates across Scotland. Our colleges are innovative and aesthetically stimulating places to learn and work; we want to see that investment maintained and improved upon wherever possible. All Scotland's learners deserve the very best learning environments.

Skills are vital to Scotland. We have already demonstrated our commitment to working with employers to create new skills learning pathways to service a diverse modern economy. That uplift in enrolments over the past decade must continue to increase if we are to ensure Scotland has the advantage it needs to compete against other ambitious and thriving economies.

Last year, 6 per cent of college enrolments could be traced back to our partnerships with schools. Attracting young people into vocational training is key to addressing the Not in Education, Employment or Training agenda.

The trick is not to let them become Neet at all, and that is what colleges are good at. Give the resources to the colleges and we will breathe life into skills academies - because that's what we are - and tackle the problem of hard-to-reach young people.

Scotland increasingly features high on lists of top places to live for quality of life. Steadily, we are improving life for all our citizens and offering support and encouragement to help them re-engage with the democratic process.

Active citizenship and working with hard-to-reach adults in Scotland's most deprived areas is part of the mission of colleges. We need dedicated resources to de-velop this important work.

Over the life of the next parliament, we would like to grow the one in 10 participation in Scotland's colleges to one in five. But we will not be able to do it alone. We look to the new parliament and executive to be our partners in delivering this ambitious, but wholly attainable, objective.

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