Is Glasgow a `beacon' or snuffing out opportunities?

13th February 2015 at 00:00
Critics fear for provision under colleges' new joint curriculum

Staff and students have raised "serious concerns" about an overhaul of further education provision in Glasgow, which they fear is being driven by cost-cutting and will lead to fewer courses being offered.

The warning comes as colleges in the city launched their first joint curriculum plan, which principals believe will improve the quality of provision and create more opportunities for students with no qualifications.

The plan, announced by Glasgow Clyde, Glasgow Kelvin and City of Glasgow colleges, is the latest stage of the regionalisation process, which has reduced the number of colleges in the city from seven to three.

Henry McLeish, chair of Glasgow Colleges' regional board, said the proposals outlined this week were "the first building block in making the city a beacon for progressive college education in Europe".

He added: "This is the product of excellent collaboration between our colleges and a marker for the future, as we renew further and higher education and provide students with more choices and opportunities."

Under the plans, Glasgow Kelvin and Glasgow Clyde colleges will face cuts in provision of 11 and 6 per cent, respectively. Nevertheless, principals of the three colleges insist that FE provision will increase by about 2 per cent overall across the city, with City of Glasgow College expected to increase its offering by some 20 per cent and help support growth in subjects such as chemical sciences, administration, financial and business services, food and drink, and hospitality and leisure.

However, teaching staff and students have raised concerns about curriculum planning being influenced by the demands of the new City of Glasgow College campus, which is currently being built at a cost of pound;228 million.

A spokesman for the EIS-FELA union, which represents college lecturers, told TESS that the decision appeared to be "driven by the requirements of the project at [City of Glasgow College] rather than educational considerations".

He added that the centralisation of provision would have "a disproportionate impact on certain sections of the community - such as students with disabilities, single parents or those with other caring responsibilities - for whom additional travel is a potential barrier to learning."

Last week, finance secretary John Swinney confirmed the Scottish FE budget for 2015-16 at pound;526 million.

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said that although the figures were in line with expectations, it was "still a tough settlement at a time when the sector is facing a number of challenges".

Speaking to TESS this week, Robert Foster, vice-president education at NUS Scotland, said the union was not opposed to regionalisation if it delivered "genuine educational improvements for students". But he added that when it came to "shifting, and even reducing" the provision on offer, the union had serious concerns.

"Colleges provide an opportunity to enter education for people from some of our most disadvantaged communities and have an incredibly strong record on boosting fair access," Mr Foster said. "A large part of that success hinges on having strong, local provision, reducing the need for students to travel and offering opportunities where students need them."

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