Financial fillip in credit crunch

30th January 2009 at 00:00
With the focus on the economy and unemployment, colleges are benefitting from a cash injection

Colleges are among the few beneficiaries of the "credit crunch". The Scottish Funding Council is giving them Pounds 7 million so they can help individuals and businesses affected by the economic downturn.

The funding - Pounds 2million before April and Pounds 5m from April - will support colleges in responding to major redundancies through the Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE), by underwriting additional expenditure. The funding council acknowledges that many colleges have already committed all their funding to their regular training and skills programmes.

Fiona Hyslop, the Education and Lifelong Secretary, welcomed the SFC's decision and said: "At present, our greatest challenge relates to safeguarding jobs or, where that isn't possible, supporting individuals facing unemployment.

John McClelland, SFC chair, gave notice that the FE sector could be in for a shake-up in courses, leading to some of them disappearing to give priority to the economic crisis. "We will continue to work with colleges to make sure their activities are focused on the economy," he said.

Earlier this month, under the PACE initiative, it was announced that 80 careers officers from Skills Development Scotland would work alongside staff in JobCentre Plus to support people facing redundancy.

The First Minister's Council of Economic Advisers wants to take this several stages further and devolve responsibility for the employment service from the Department of Work and Pensions in London to ministers in Edinburgh (TESS last week). The Scottish Government's response agrees there should be "better alignment of careers advice and training provision that should lead to increased participation in the labour market".

Meantime, a new national helpline will be established on February 2 to connect individuals and companies to local Partnership Action for Continuing Employment groups, alongside a revamped website. There will also be a PACE summit on February 9 to discuss stepping up support for those facing the prospect of unemployment.

'A RADICAL DEPARTURE'

Despite the strong steer from the Scottish Funding Council that colleges will have to overhaul their programmes to respond to the economic crisis, the Government has reacted cautiously to a key recommendation from its Council of Economic Advisers that universities should do the same.

Although the joint taskforce on the universities has agreed "new horizons" funding which would steer courses to economic priorities, the Government's response says that "ministers do not have any powers to influence directly the courses offered by universities".

The Government also gave an "accept in part" response to another of its advisers' recommendations that there should be "a two-tier approach" to four-year honours courses, with the first two years taking the form of a broad, standalone qualification and the second two an additional specialism.

This would be "a radical departure", the Government's response states. It reiterates that, due to the autonomy of universities and other higher education institutions, "ministers do not have any powers to prescribe the content or length of degrees bestowed by universities in Scotland". There would have to be demand from both students and employers for such qualifications, "and this has, so far, yet to materialise".

The Government notes that a qualification already exists for two years' successful study at university, namely the diploma in higher education. In addition, HND students can proceed from college into the second or third years of three-year ordinaryfour-year honours degrees, where articulation agreements exist between colleges and universities.

The Government has put some distance between it and another of its economic advisers' plans for more investment to pay for the "significant additional costs" of higher education - including student contributions, on the basis that "the greater the level of personal investment they make, the more focused and effective the educational outcomes will be".

In a strongly-worded response, the Government states that students already invest a great deal, foregoing higher earnings for the period of their course and subsidising their living costs through student loans, graduating with debt of around Pounds 10,000 on average. "That is a significant personal investment," it says.

Despite these caveats, the Government has accepted almost all of the council's 22 recommendations.

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