Students out in the cold

2nd July 2010 at 01:00
Scottish Funding Council chair speaks out against universities that have withdrawn places

Hundreds of further education students have been left high and dry after offers of university places were suddenly withdrawn.

John McClelland, chair of the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), told the annual conference of Scotland's Colleges last week that the issue was "of great concern". The TESS has learnt that the council is to open discussions with the two universities principally involved, Glasgow Caledonian and Napier.

Around 300 college students had embarked on their two-year Higher National diploma programme, after being given an assurance that they would be able to fast-track on to the third and fourth years of an honours course in their subject - a common, though not widespread, arrangement known as an "articulation" agreement.

Mr McClelland was outspoken in the students' defence, saying they had a "moral right" to the university places they had been expecting.

Jennifer Cadiz, depute president of the National Union of Students in Scotland, said: "It's unacceptable that students are having the rug pulled from under them halfway through their courses, potentially wasting two years of studying and two years of government investment."

Articulation agreements are not legally binding, and places at many Scottish universities filled up early this year due to an unprecedented demand for courses. The FE students consequently found their path to university blocked.

The funding council imposed a hefty fine of pound;338,000 on Napier University in 2009-10 for over-recruiting students whose places were unfunded. Glasgow Caledonian University did not suffer a penalty.

The irony of the position is not lost on the funding council, which must now clear up the consequences of its own action. Insiders say any initial solution will apply no more than a "sticking plaster" which will increase funding to the universities simply to get the students across the threshold. The institutions will then have to dig into their own resources to keep them there.

The SFC is expected to look afresh at articulation agreements in the hope of avoiding similar problems in future. Other institutions that take in students on a similar basis have not had to turn any away so far.

In his speech, which dealt largely with funding pressures colleges would face from next year, Mr McClelland called for greater momentum to get more students progressing from further to higher education. The recent Reform Scotland report on the two sectors made the same recommendation, and this was strongly endorsed by Scotland's Colleges.

neil.munro@tes.co.uk.

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