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Millions for colleges, but fears persist

Additional funding is welcomed, but experts warn `the devil is in the detail'

Additional funding is welcomed, but experts warn `the devil is in the detail'

Principals and students have welcomed millions of pounds of additional funding for colleges, but warned that severe cuts and prevailing uncertainty could still hit the sector hard.

In the Scottish government's 2012-13 budget announcement last week, finance secretary John Swinney promised an extra pound;11.4 million for student support - reversing a previously-proposed cut that would have left many of the poorest college students without essential support.

He pledged an extra pound;8.1 million to "help colleges play their part in delivering our Opportunities for All commitment" - the promise of a place in education, work or training for 16 to 19-year-olds.

Following previous announcements of a pound;15 million "transformation fund" to support regionalisation of colleges and pound;5 million to tackle youth unemployment, Mr Swinney said this represented "pound;40 million of additional investment which should leave no one in a shadow of doubt about the strength of the administration's commitment to our colleges and to Scotland's students".

In a letter to principals sent the day after the budget announcement, education secretary Michael Russell said the money would "allow (Skills Development Scotland) to deliver the government's commitment to maintain this year's level of student places".

In its indicative grant letter, the Scottish Funding Council said 4 per cent of college places this year would be funded by an SDS pilot scheme, details of which have yet to be announced. In his letter, Mr Russell added that he also expected SDS to "pursue further efficiencies".

John Spencer, convener of Scotland's Colleges Principals' Convention, said: "The devil will be very much in the detail as to how this funding will be made available and what, if any, criteria may need to be met by colleges to access it." With SDS funds referred to as a pilot, colleges would need to know what funding stream could be relied upon in the longer term, he added.

Langside College principal Graeme Hyslop said: "Although I welcome the revival of the promise on student support, and so do our students, the rest of the announcement is much less clear. The college sector needs clarity now."

Robin Parker, president of the National Union of Students Scotland, said: "I'm delighted to say that the Scottish government has delivered to protect opportunities at this difficult time."

julia.belgutay@tess.co.uk

CHANGE TEAM

The government is finalising the membership of a "change team", which is to oversee reform of the college sector.

"We expect this to include officials from the Scottish government and the Scottish Funding Council, as well as representatives from colleges," a government spokeswoman said.

A letter from the education secretary to college principals on the transformation fund to support regionalisation of colleges, sent on 25 January, states that colleges should submit their interest in funding to the change team, which would assess demand and start negotiations.

Formation of the change team was among the recommendations by Russel Griggs in his review of college governance, published this month.

He suggested a central team should "manage the process of change across the sector and work with the new chairs and boards to deliver their outcomes". Professor Griggs said it would control transition funding and report to the education secretary.

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