What lies ahead for colleges?

The financial constraints facing Scotland's further education colleges are becoming increasingly confusing and untenable, creating major difficulties not only for staff and students but also for local authorities who work in partnership with colleges.

In North Lanarkshire we have developed an excellent model with our three local colleges. These involve college lecturers teaching in our schools and, for other courses, pupils attending classes in the colleges.

As a result of this, pupils who wish to pursue vocational qualifications can attend courses such as car mechanics, bodycare, childcare, construction, hairdressing and hospitality. In 2010-11, 783 pupils attended these courses and were presented for Scottish Qualifications Authority vocational qualifications, with 91 per cent gaining an award, which has led to a significant number of these pupils going on to secure apprenticeships and further training.

However, programmes like this are now under serious threat because of the financial uncertainty facing colleges. The only certainty which colleges have been made aware of is that there is a 13 per cent overall reduction in the FE budget with subsequent cuts in future years.

At this stage, individual colleges do not know how this reduction will impact on their own specific budget. This lack of certainty has created a scenario where college principals do not know their respective budgets for 2012-13, resulting in them being unable to confirm at this stage which courses they can deliver next year.

Cuts in grant funding to colleges will inevitably lead to a narrower choice of subjects and larger class sizes in schools, thereby denying young people specific courses and individualised supports and subjects in which they can excel. It also makes a mockery of the SNP commitment to widen educational and training access for pupils from poorer backgrounds.

Therefore, I am calling on the Education Secretary to take urgent action to confirm college budgets in order that these well- established and successful partnership programmes can continue for the benefit of our young people.

Councillor Jim Logue, convener of learning and leisure, North Lanarkshire Council.

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