Edinburgh College likely to cut courses, says principal

18th December 2015 at 00:00
Institution ‘must shrink’ as it contends with a huge cash deficit, small classes and low student recruitment

Edinburgh College is planning dramatic changes to its offering and college structure in an effort to eradicate its financial deficit.

In a board paper shared with staff last week, principal Annette Bruton, who took on the post earlier this year, said that small classes, insufficient student recruitment and too broad a curriculum were among the issues that needed to be tackled.

Speaking to TESS this week, she said: “If the numbers don’t work, the money doesn’t work. We don’t have enough students. Having 900 courses is only a good thing if you need those 900 courses.” While only minor changes would be made for the 2016-17 academic year, more dramatic changes would be considered for the following year, she said. Class sizes would also be looked at.

The staffing level would also have to be reviewed, the paper to the board stated, “to ensure it is both sustainable and appropriate to our curriculum and commercial offer”.

“Initially, what we need to do is shrink, and that has an implication for staffing,” Ms Bruton told TESS. However, as the college refocused its offer, this could provide new opportunities for staff, she added.

The college has to make significant savings to eradicate its deficit, currently standing at £800,000 – down from £2.5 million earlier this year. It also wants to save the amount lost through changes by the Scottish Funding Council to the delivery target for the college.

With the college currently delivering its provision across four main campuses, an accelerated estate review would ensure that the college had “the right size and type of campuses and infrastructure to meet the needs of our students and our business model”.

No decisions have been made about the future of the college estate, Ms Bruton stressed to TESS, but she added that “four campuses is costing us a lot of money”.

Staff ‘supportive’

The principal said that heads of department had been “highly supportive and very relieved” when they had learned about the plans.

“They said to me that they are relieved that we are recognising the problem and are going to get a grip on what is really going to take the college forward.” Staff will be heavily involved in making decisions about the future of the college, Ms Bruton added.

The Edinburgh College branch of the EIS teaching union said it was reassured that worries about recruitment were now shared by management. Staff were concerned about the impact that a review of the curriculum and the estate could have, a spokesperson said, but added: “We are told the average class size is nine. We know that is not sustainable.”

Edinburgh College was formed through the merger of Stevenson, Telford and Jewel and Esk colleges in 2012 – only months after the government announced its plans to regionalise the sector and around a year prior to most of the mergers which created the 13 Scottish college regions, most with only one college.

The government had hoped its restructuring of the sector would save around £50 million annually from 2015-16 onwards. According to Audit Scotland, Scottish government funding to colleges fell by 12.3 per cent in real terms between 2011-12 and 2013-14 – raising concerns over the financial health of the sector.

However, a spokeswoman for Colleges Scotland said that Edinburgh College’s plans were “not systematic of the rest of the college sector, as a direct result of the college reforms”.

A Scottish government spokesman said that the SFC would continue to support Edinburgh College as it makes the changes and improvements needed.


‘More colleges will follow’

College principals tell TESS that they believe other institutions are likely to follow Edinburgh’s lead. One principal of a recently merged college says all colleges would be under extreme financial pressure next year, and that he would “not at all be surprised if similar moves had to be made elsewhere in terms of class sizes and provision”.

Another principal, also of a merged college, adds: “It is impossible to keep delivering the same levels of service to the same number of students with the same number of staff if funding is getting even tighter. And that is before any national pay deal.”

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