Rather in keeping with the past year, the word "unprecedented" springs to mind when thinking about the 2021 Scottish parliamentary election campaign, with hustings now taking place from laptop screens and mobile devices as opposed to the more traditional settings of community centres and town halls. I’ve personally missed the doorstep campaigning and reduced face-to-face engagement with politicians and the public for this election.
At Colleges Scotland, we have had to adapt our own engagement with the political parties in the run-up to the election campaign. Between October 2020 and January 2021 we met with all political parties via Zoom or Teams to discuss manifestos as they were formed, drawing attention to the role of colleges in supporting an inclusive social and economic recovery from Covid-19 in regions across Scotland. We also stressed the key current issues facing colleges, students and staff, as well as outlining the opportunities for political parties as they looked ahead to the election campaign, based on the key asks of the sector.
As part of these conversations, we talked about the overall financial position of the sector and the need for a streamlined, simplified and sustainable funding model which would protect the critical contribution of colleges to the social and economic recovery, up-skilling at this critical time when so many people are facing redundancy or insecure employment, and in continuing to develop Scotland’s current and future workforce.
Scottish election 2021: The parties' education policies
Election 2021: What if teachers wrote manifestos?
Certainly some of the proposals we’ve seen in the final manifestos would go a long way towards helping to resolve the inequity in funding that college learners receive in comparison with other elements of the tertiary education landscape. Other promises would support the financial sustainability of the sector moving forward. These pledges, if enacted, will also enable colleges to fully support the social and economic recovery from Covid-19 in communities across Scotland, in their role as civic anchors.
It’s in this role that colleges continue to be there for their students.
Scottish election 2021: Commitments to support FE colleges
Given the additional challenges that Covid-19 has placed on student mental health and wellbeing, we were particularly pleased to see a consensus across the party spectrum to implement measures in relation to national student mental health actions plans. Colleges remain 100 per cent committed to supporting the mental health of both students and staff and to work towards ensuring that we truly have equity of access in provision of mental health support services, so that we can guarantee that students will have the same level of service irrespective of what point they enter the education system.
There was a similar shared focus by all parties on the importance of providing opportunities for young people amidst what is expected to be a really challenging employment landscape as the economy slowly emerges from the pandemic. All parties have committed in one form or another to a young person’s guarantee, currently being rolled out by the SNP government, or other education and employment placements. Colleges will play a leading role in the successful delivery of these schemes, and in ensuring that no young person is left behind as a consequence of the pandemic. We really welcome the upfront and consistent emphasis on skills and upskilling and reskilling related activity across the manifestos.
Whatever the outcome of the election may be over the next week, Colleges Scotland will continue to act as the voice of the sector in advocating the interests of colleges to the Scottish Parliament class of 2021 and will look forward to working with the incoming Scottish government in implementing its commitments for the good of the college sector, its students, staff and the communities which they serve across Scotland.
Tom Hall is a policy officer at Colleges Scotland