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Too few realise what colleges are achieving

It is now less than four weeks into my new role as principal of the Lauder group of colleges - and I am foolish enough to believe that I am at least beginning to understand how the organisation works.

It is a wonderful place with a hugely impressive history of delivering vocational education and training to those from the Edinburgh area, Kinross, Perth, Dundee and Stirling.

The range of courses and programmes on offer throughout the group is very extensive, not only in the subject spread but also in the spread of qualifications from modern apprenticeships to degree and master's level courses,which are offered in partnership with a number of universities.

So how does it feel to move from a new, modern university to the further education sector? No one has explicitly asked the question but there has been considerable innuendo, especially in relation to the availability of resources "compared to higher education". However, the truth is that it feels very good indeed.

Lauder offers high-quality vocational education which is useful, dynamic and well supported by caring staff who are committed to their learners.

The college is customer-focused as well as community-focused. It has an excellent track record - longer than that of any "new university" - of providing employment-ready "graduates". On top of that, the range of courses, subjects and levels of provision offered is quite staggering.

Part of the joy of the "Lauder group" is the diversity of its provision and, while I cannot claim to have seen it all, I have learned enough to know that this sector is not receiving anything like enough public recognition for the work that it does on a regular basis.

In the case of Lauder, we have a particularly energetic, innovative and entrepreneurial staff, which is reflected in the statistics showing Lauder as 21st in Scotland, out of 40-plus colleges, in terms of funded students but sixth in terms of turnover.

The various commercial and public-sector contracts go some way towards increasing the resources available to support the publicly-funded learning that is the core of the college's activity.

It has been wonderful for me to learn about the ongoing success at Lauder as I meet learners whose career and even life has been or is being transformed through the work of Lauder staff. Be it undergraduate computing, June starts, modern apprenticeships or simply those learners at employment and enterprise centres, there is a very good feeling that something positive and useful is going on.

The three-and-a-half weeks have flown by since I took up the principal's post. That, I believe, is a good sign. I did wonder if Lauder was being graciously sponsored by VisitScotland for a time, since the diary has been booked out, with visits from Lord (Sandy) Leitch, who chairs the committee on skills needs in the United Kingdom, and representatives of the Scottish Executive, the Carnegie Global Foundation philanthropy awards and the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

We should be flattered that this sector is so much in the limelight at the moment. I do not gain the impression that it is for any reason other than the remarkable job that is being done. Hopefully, education and enterprise can remain top of the political agenda and, hopefully, the contribution made by the FE sector to delivering skills and income will be recognised through the funding model.

And who knows, maybe November will be a quiet month.

Professor Bill McIntosh is principal of Lauder College.

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