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Scotland's top of the class

Lifelong learning strategy is proving its worth, with more highly skilled people than elsewhere in UK as the Treasury in London was preparing to take the wraps off the Leitch review on skills (opposite page), the Scottish Executive was getting set to sing the praises of the system north of the border.

The central message of the executive's update on its lifelong learning strategy is that "Scotland has fewer lower-skilled people and more highly-skilled people than anywhere else in the UK" (see panel, right).

Messages from a cross-section of those driving the skills agenda in Scotland re-inforce the point, but also underline the message there are some miles to go before the nation sleeps.

Frank Pignatelli, the former chief executive of learndirect scotland, referred to min-isterial ambitions to encourage people to be "eager, curious, inspired and passionate about learning", adding: "And so it has come to pass."

Learndirect scotland had seen a huge surge of interest from the public and employers - since its inception in 2000, it has handled almost 2 million individual enquiries about education and training and 56,000 business queries.

Janet Lowe, the former principal of Lauder College in Dunfermline, who chairs the Scottish Funding Council's skills committee, said: "We are beginning to understand more clearly the relationship between supply and demand. It is about students choosing the right courses, it is about employers getting the skills they need and it is about colleges and universities responding to demand from both learners and employers."

Contrary to the implications of the Leitch review, Robert Pollock, director of skills at Scottish Enterprise, said there was now a common approach to skills and learning among a wide range of organisations.

"This is no simple achievement given the complexity of lifelong learning, which involves individuals, communities, the wider society and the economy," he said.

Joyce Cannon, Scottish secretary of the Workers' Educational Association, said she did not believe the emphasis on workforce learning would have been so extensive had it not been for the lifelong learning strategy.

Seamus McDaid, principal of Paisley University, said institutions like his had to offer opportunities to people of all ages and backgrounds and not recruit from a narrow, privileged base.

The funding council's skills committee is to explore additional steps colleges and universities could be taking to meet labour market demands.

They are doing a good job, Dr Lowe believes, but she says "it would be complacent to leave the matter there".

Her committee has selected health, financial services, energy and textiles as the first sectors to investigate, because they have experienced skills shortages and recruitment problems. The funding council is already supporting a project to enhance skills in tourism, fishing and construction.


the working age population qualified to HNC or above is 31 per cent, which is better than anywhere else in the UK apart from London at 32 per cent

Scotland is the only part of the UK where the number of people with HNC or above is greater than the number with Standard grade Credit awards, or equivalent

Scots improved their qualifications profile faster than the rest of the UK - 22 per cent to 29 per cent at HNC-plus, compared with growth of 21 to 26 per cent, from 1997-2004

there are fewer people with low qualifications (less than Scottish Vocational Qualifications at level 2) than in the UK as a whole: 29 per cent against 35 per cent (but compared with 13 per cent in the USA and 16 per cent in Japan)

by 2020, the Scottish workforce qualified to tertiary level is estimated to be 50 per cent, behind only Canada and the USA and compared to the UK as a whole at 43 per cent

only one in 20 workplaces reports that it cannot fill vacancies because of lack of skills, qualifications or experience, which equates to 1 per cent of jobs 63 per cent of Scottish employers invest in training their staff satisfaction with courses from colleges and training providers is high - 82 per cent and 88 per cent there has been a fall in the number unemployed or seeking employment - from 13 per cent to 10 per cent (1998-99 to 2005-06)

60 per cent of modern apprentices complete their training, compared with 46 per cent in England school-business partnerships now number 7,000, well ahead of the 2,000 target.

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