Funding officials have raised serious concerns about Edinburgh College after a report revealed that it clocked a £5.1 million deficit.
The Scottish Funding Council said that there were issues around financial sustainability, curriculum development and student recruitment at the college.
The college’s post-merger evaluation report, published last week, states that the institution’s annual accounts for 2014-15 showed that there was a deficit of £5.1 million for the 18-month period to 31 July 2015.
Falling completion rates
It also highlights that the course completion rate for full-time further education learners had dropped from 65.4 per cent in 2013-14 to 59.6 per cent in 2014-15.
The college has agreed to have its delivery target lowered, and progress towards a regional curriculum has been slow, the SFC says.
While progress had been made towards the intended benefits of the merger, the report says, it was not at “the level projected for academic year 2015-16”.
The report adds: “While this merger has made progress in many areas, significant aspects of the college operation face challenges and remain under question.” It suggests that attention should switch from the merger review process to what it calls “a programme of ongoing additional scrutiny”.
The college was created through the merger of Telford, Jewel and Esk and Stevenson College in October 2012 – almost a year before the majority of mergers took place as part of the government’s regionalisation agenda.
The programme was meant to save money, improve relations between colleges and employers, create national centres for excellence in different subject areas, and improve standards for students.
Since its merger, Edinburgh College has faced a series of problems – including strikes by college staff and a vote of no confidence in its previous principal.
Edinburgh College principal Annette Bruton said that she was pleased the SFC had acknowledged that the college’s business transformation plan was on the right track to address concerns and ensure success.
“We’ve been working closely with the SFC and have been upfront about the issues faced since the merger, so there are no surprises in the report.”
“We know that our curriculum hasn’t been the right shape or size since merger and that’s the most crucial area to get right, to ensure recruitment and retention are solid and that our financial model is sustainable,” Ms Bruton said.
“We have a plan for developing the curriculum needed by students, businesses and the region as a whole, so over the next three years of the transformation plan we will continue to work with the SFC and other partners to deliver this.”
She added that the areas of progress highlighted in the report, including better links with schools, improved routes for students to go to university, and increasing influence on national education policy, were “a solid platform to build upon”.
The SFC has now published post-merger evaluation reports for all newly created colleges.
In June, reports on New College Lanarkshire, Glasgow Clyde College and Ayrshire College were published. While issues were identified at all institutions and particularly those of Clyde and New College Lanarkshire had faced challenges, the SFC concluded all three had been a success.
Glasgow Clyde College’s principal Susan Walsh (pictured) said: “Every external review and report we’ve had since the merger has commented on the commitment and professionalism of staff, the great partnerships we have and always putting students first. Clyde’s ability to focus on continual improvement has helped us achieve this very positive report and bodes well for the college as we leave merger behind and look to a successful future.”
Andrew Witty, funding and finance policy lead for Colleges Scotland, said that the reports showed that overall colleges planned and implemented the mergers well and made good progress. “The college sector is not complacent, however, and we acknowledge that there are still areas where further improvement is required,” he added.