The majority of Scotland's colleges could fill their places three times over, Howard McKenzie, acting chief executive of the Association of Scotland's Colleges, told the Scottish Parliament's education committee last week. Those missing out, most of whom are aged 16 to 24, end up attending "college inertia" instead, entering low-paid work or going on benefits, he added.
The consequences were wider than the direct impact on unsuc-cessful candidates, he pointed out, and if Scotland wanted a know-ledge-based economy, it needed to up-skill its population.
"For every four applications, we reject three because we don't have the places," said Mr McKenzie, who is also principal of Jewel and Esk Valley College in Edinburgh. "Places have been capped for seven years. At my college, we get 6,500 full-time applications for 2,200 places. At least 5,000 people a year across Scotland who apply for two or three courses don't get any and disappear out of the system.
"Unfortunately, they are the least organised and least capable and the ones that need us most. They are the ones whose skills are low who have poor literacy and numeracy and whom we need to pick up and try to engage in the economy."
David Caldwell, director of Universities Scotland, the body which represents HE principals, called for more funding to allow universities to accept more students.