Steady decline in number of students
The scottish public continues to be stubbornly resistant to lifelong learning, it appears: participation in studies at further education colleges has fallen back almost to the level it was at nearly 10 years ago.
A progress report from the Scottish Funding Council on its Learning for All strategy shows that 6.4 per cent of the total population took part in some form of college learning in 1998-99, peaking at 7.5 per cent in 2001-02 and falling steadily to 6.8 per cent by 2004-05.
The decline is more marked in sub-degree courses at Higher National levels and among young men. These trends are also apparent in falling participation rates in higher education: they have been in decline since 2001-02, as measured by the number of young Scots taking HE courses in colleges and universities (down from 51.5 per cent in 2002 to 46.4 per cent in 2005).
The SFC report notes that one of the reasons for the fall in participation rates in colleges is that there are fewer students on part-time HE courses.
Yet the volume of learning delivered by colleges has slightly increased and more school leavers are entering FE, which signifies "a move towards longer courses taken by fewer people".
The falling rates affecting HE are known to be influenced by reduced demand, although it is not known why this is happening, states the report.
The strength of the economy is likely to be a factor, it suggests, since the number of school leavers going into work remains high.
There are considerable regional variations within these figures, and also clear links between levels of deprivation and levels of study.
Glasgow colleges, for instance, account for the highest involvement in learning in the country - 96.3 per thousand of the working age population were on FE courses in 2004-05, while a further 18.5 per thousand were on HE courses in colleges. This contrasts with the Dunbartonshire area where the combined FEHE figure for colleges was 75.2.
Generally, students from the most deprived 40 per cent of the population are slightly over-represented in colleges. And there has been a small increase in the number of mature students from the most deprived 20 per cent of the population going to university - up by 1.3 per cent in the four years to 2005, compared with a 1.1 per cent rise for under-21s from the most deprived areas.
The social and economic backgrounds of students remain a firm indicator of where they are likely to end up. Last year, 27 per cent of males and 34 per cent of females left state schools for university; 79 per cent young men and 82 per cent of young women did so from independent schools.
And once students get into higher education, their backgrounds follow them: the two strongest predictors of whether they will drop out or not, the SFC report states, are deprivation and prior attainment.
MEANING OF SUCCESS
How the SFC intends to measure success in lifelong learning: Exam results and post-school involvement in learning would be more evenly spread among people from different backgrounds, gender, age groups and geography Applications for higher education places would come from people in all walks of life More students would stay the course and get better results in colleges and universities Increased numbers of students would go to university from state schools More students would go into HE from FE colleges with "advan-ced standing"