Tired of waiting: would-be Scottish college students

19th September 2014 at 01:00
But no one knows how many thousands are not getting places

Applications to Scottish colleges have far outstripped the places available this year, a survey by TESS has shown.

Some courses received dozens more entries than they could handle. The total number of applications still on waiting lists at Edinburgh and Glasgow stood at more than 1,000, and at Fife College more than 500 were outstanding, some 150 of them for full-time courses in health and related subjects.

Courses such as hair, beauty, healthcare and sciences were particularly oversubscribed in some institutions.

The figures - the first to be collected since regionalisation - come two years after a row erupted between college leaders and the Scottish government over the exact number of people who were unable to get a college place of their choice.

Colleges Scotland (known at the time as Scotland's Colleges) carried out its own survey, the result of which claimed that 20,000 applications were on waiting lists.

But a government report put the figure much lower, explaining that students often applied to several courses at once, sometimes at other colleges. It claimed that 72 per cent of those counted had actually found places elsewhere.

Gordon Maloney, president of NUS Scotland, said of the latest TESS survey: "While we know that there is often a large amount of duplication among college applications, it is clear that we must be doing more to offer a place to all those with the need and desire for one."

He added that college was "that vital first step towards employment" for many young people and equally important for those wanting to retrain later in life."

Although Mr Maloney welcomed the recent additional government funding for college places, he said that more needed to be done. "As we look ahead to the forthcoming budget, they should be doing all they can to expand on this and boost places for those most at risk of missing out," he said.

The variety of methods that colleges use to deal with applications means it is impossible to accurately assess the total number of students still waiting for a place at college. The latest figures are only an indication of the way in which demand continues to outstrip supply.

Stewart McKillop, principal of South Lanarkshire College, said that his institution did not retain waiting lists and had sent out letters to disappointed applicants "saying that the courses are oversubscribed and no places will become available".

A spokesman for West College Scotland said its application process ensured that courses were closed when they became oversubscribed, avoiding long waiting lists. He added that "a small number of places are still available in many courses".

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said that the body was working with the Scottish government, Education Scotland and individual colleges "to improve the application process and overall data handling for those wanting to enter colleges.

"However, with the variation across the sector in terms of systems, processes and procedures for student applications, we recognise there is more work to be done, especially at a regional level, to improve the situation."

A Scottish government spokesman said that its study on college waiting lists last year had shown "a range of issues, including widespread double counting as people apply for more than one course".

He added: "Colleges and key partners are working together to improve their processes and data in order to manage applications and admissions more effectively."

The spokesman explained that colleges were "central to giving students better prospects in education, training and employment, with a greater variety of subjects, study options and qualifications available".

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