Lifelong learning issues debated
Alan Blackie, director of education and community services, said the centre might be established at the St Joseph's Residential School campus between Tranent and Prestonpans as early as September, though other sites, including new-build, were not ruled out.
Mr Blackie hoped that the capital package would be finalised by November this year and that the centre will be self-financing by 2003. With private finance initiative investment from partners such as Scottish Power, and with Jewel and Esk Valley College as the "lead college" for educational provision, a company is being formed to make the centre "a hub for creating more learning opportunities in East Lothian".
It will be part of the council's economic development strategy to create work skills and "build knowledge for tomorrow's needs and the new millennium", Mr Blackie said. "East Lothian has been underprovided in post-school educational provision."
The centre will target the young and long-term unemployed, adult returners and those "failed by the school system".
Gerry Cairns, HMI said "the long-term unemployed male will not go near anything that smacks of education. They look for a short-term pay-off. You need to develop different initiatives to attract, for example, school-leavers and the long-term unemployed. There's no simple answer."
Links between educational institutions such as the new centre and the business sector were also deemed problematic. Jean Balloch, an Edinburgh organiser of Understanding Scotland's Industry, spoke of "communication problems", and while Mr Blackie said the council had "strong links" with local business he lamented that many smaller tourist-related businesses were unwilling to release staff for even half-day courses.
Willie Innes, chair of education and community services, said he saw a paradox in businesses demanding an educated workforce while insisting on lower taxation levels.
The possibility of more money for further education at the expense of higher education was supported by Ms Balloch, but Mr Cairns argued that although there was "a strong case for FE to expand it would have to be balanced against HE funding".
Mr Blackie said amalgamations of FE colleges and universities were "almost inevitable in order to bring down unit costs."