European funding has made a huge impact on colleges, but this will change next year when budget restructuring comes into effect. Neil Munro reports
Additional evidence of the major impact which further education colleges have been able to make as a result of European funding has emerged from a study conducted in the west of Scotland.
The 17 colleges, which are members of the West of Scotland Colleges Partnership, have been able to provide finance of pound;56.4 million for 734 projects, with backing from the European Social Fund between 2000 and 2006. Glasgow colleges accounted for pound;26 million.
The monies ranged from pound;11 million for 121 projects at James Watt College to pound;217,000 for five projects at the former Glasgow College of Food Technology.
More than 28,000 people have benefited during that time, through vocational training supported by the ESF. Of these, 4,693 gained a qualification and 2,696 went into education or training.
John McCearney, the transition manager for the partnership, believes the report vindicates the track record and commitment of its members "to tackle poverty and disadvantage through improving employability and skills levels". He now wants these achievements to be disseminated more widely.
A report from the Scottish Funding Council in August revealed that colleges in the country as a whole had successfully bid for pound;124.6 million in European aid from 2000-04.
The colleges in the west are now adding their voices to raise awareness of the severe impact which the loss of European funding will have from 2007-13. The change has come about because of EU budget restructuring, following the enlargement of the union to 25 member states two years ago.
In addition to combating disadvantage through training programmes, colleges across Scotland have used European cash to make substantial improvements to their estate, a source of capital investment which the Scottish Executive acknowledges will "diminish substantially".
The west of Scotland study noted: "The achievements of those individuals engaged have been substantial. The analysis has identified that large numbers of workless individuals, young people, women, ethnic minorities and disabled have accessed employment, training, education and gained qualifications.
"Colleges have also performed well against a large number of targets, many of which have been exceeded to a significant degree." This includes 87 per cent of those taking part in the "objective 2" projects who completed their course, against an anticipated 76 per cent.
Graeme Hyslop, principal of Langside College who chairs the west of Scotland partnership, said the record showed the differences colleges could make and, while the EU funds available over the next seven years would be significantly reduced, colleges were "geared to making it count yet again in the new programme".
The Scottish Executive has said ministers will take account of the impact on colleges of any reductions in current sources of funding.