College places fall short in wake of funding cuts
Figures on the number of applicants turned away by colleges this year reveal the level of unmet demand for places in the further education sector following funding cuts.
Thousands of eligible students were unable to secure a place at the institution to which they applied for this academic year, the statistics collected by the Scottish Liberal Democrats under a Freedom of Information request shows.
Colleges say this is in part due to a reduction of activity in the sector related to a lack of funding.
According to the figures, West Lothian College turned away 638 students, not including the applicants to its January programmes, compared with 489 in 2011-12, while South Lanarkshire turned away 569 suitable applicants. James Watt College could not accommodate 1,261 students and Reid Kerr was unable to offer places to 1,968 students, not counting its January programmes.
Dundee College turned away 3,191 applicants, while Anniesland did not have places for 883 applicants and John Wheatley in Glasgow was unable to accommodate 424 potential students.
North Glasgow College told the Liberal Democrats it had to turn away 936 students for this academic year, while at Stow, also in Glasgow, applications exceeded enrolments by 6,207.
Stow's principal, Robert McGrory, said the raw figure was "very misleading" as it did not take into account students applying for more than one course, or indeed applying to a number of colleges. Other colleges said changes to their application system had affected the figures.
However, Stow's statistics highlight one of the causes of the shortage of places across the country, with the number of total enrolments down from 5,285 to 2,875 this year. This is largely owing to a cut in part-time provision; only 793 part-time students were enrolled this year, compared with 3,090 last year.
"The fact is that Glasgow has lost activity," North Glasgow College principal Ronnie Knox told TESS. While there was likely to be an element of duplication, with prospective students applying for more than one college, there was definitely unmet demand for places in the city following the cuts, he said.
Colleges Scotland's chief executive, John Henderson, said the figures were evidence of a "strong demand for college places".
"Reversing the planned cuts to colleges' teaching grant would enable them to create more opportunities for Scots to transform their lives and help build Scotland's future prosperity," he added.
"These figures show that up and down Scotland, colleges are being forced to turn away applicants due to a lack of places," said Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Liam McArthur.
"How can the SNP government seriously expect to tackle unemployment if it is slashing over #163;30 million out of college budgets when they need it most?"
Mr McArthur said the figures also showed applicants "languishing" on waiting lists.
The government recently announced an audit of college waiting lists, as it is assumed many applicants appear on more than one list, or could even have found a place at another college.
A Scottish government spokesman said it was maintaining college numbers.
"We've already set in hand an audit of waiting lists to establish what they're really telling us. The prospect of multiple applications within and between colleges means they're unlikely to be a robust measure of unmet demand. Our audit will be complete early in 2013," he added.
Number of applications that did not lead to the offer of a place for 2012-13:
Carnegie College - 400
Banff and Buchan - 180
West Lothian - 638
South Lanarkshire - 569
Reid Kerr - 1,968
Moray - 64
Langside - 2,781
Dundee - 3,191
Dumfries and Galloway - 86
Anniesland - 883
Borders - 96
Barony - 59
Elmwood - 465
Oatridge - 185
Scottish Agricultural College - 80
North Glasgow - 936
John Wheatley - 424
Stow - 6,207
James Watt - 1,261
Source: Scottish Liberal Democrats.
For some colleges, these figures do not include January programmes. A number of colleges said they were unable to respond to the Liberal Democrats' FoI request, while others merely gave the number of students on their waiting lists.