The cabinet is giving urgent attention to the problems colleges are facing in meeting the surge in demand for student places as a result of the recession, The TESS understands.
A top-level meeting was held at short notice last week involving Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary; Linda McTavish, convener of the FE principals' group; Chris Travis, chief executive of Scotland's Colleges; and Neil Cuthbert, policy manager with Scotland's Colleges
Colleges are coming under major pressure, both from school leavers unable to find work and people who have lost their jobs or face redundancy. A survey by Scotland's Colleges has revealed that one college has experienced a 300 per cent rise in applications compared with this time last year, and the average rise for the sector is 35 per cent.
Principals now fear that, with caps on their overall funding and on student bursaries, they will have to turn people away and that school pupils could be particularly disadvantaged since popular courses will be full by the time they receive their exam results in August.
The Scottish Government has asked colleges for further information on a range of points, so Ms Hyslop can make "evidence-based representations" to Cabinet in the coming weeks. She wants applications broken down by gender and geography, and whether 25 to 34-year-olds in particular are applying for courses after a spell of unemployment. Ms Hyslop is looking for more data on which courses are under greatest pressure.
Before she commits further cash, she will want to be satisfied that colleges are supporting themselves by changing their priorities to meet demand. Ms Hyslop is understood to be seeking assurances of how extra funding would be used to add to learning opportunities for students, and the extent to which colleges are assisting businesses to beat the recession.