By Shona Struthers, Chief Executive of Colleges Scotland
As the leader of Colleges Scotland, the membership organisation for all 26 colleges across the country, there are questions which I’m frequently asked not just about the here and now but also about the future. What kind of further and higher education provided by colleges do learners need? How can colleges support students holistically so that they can be successful learners? And as organisations, what do colleges need from our funders – the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) on behalf of the Scottish Government – to enable efficient delivery of the world-class education, training and skills colleges offer?
Earlier this week, Colleges Scotland responded to the recent publication of the Scottish Funding Council Review of Coherent Provision and Sustainability.
Since the review began, Colleges Scotland has been engaged and clear about what’s needed now and in the years ahead, and the Review adds to a growing body of influencing research including the Cumberford-Little Report and The Scottish College of the Future Report. The themes of both of these pieces of work chime with the SFC Review recommendations – there is now a very clear direction of travel which could bring sustainability and more success to the college sector.
Colleges Scotland, in representing the views of our members, has asked Ministers and the SFC to prioritise some of the report’s recommendations so that colleges can gain the most impact at the quickest speed from the changes that might lie ahead.
Priorities for Scotland’s colleges
To pick three examples of where the review recommendations might bring about real change and deliver impact for students, organisations, and communities, firstly we strongly agree with the review recommendation that financial sustainability comes about for colleges. Multi-year funding allows colleges to plan, make smart investments with public funding, and commit to longer term decisions that can bring about meaningful progress for organisations. In other words, sustainable funding instead of the single year funding pots colleges currently operate within could bring about cost savings, allow colleges to base their decisions on firm ground, and give certainty to the strategies they are trying to deliver.
Another recommendation from the review we’ve asked to be implemented as a priority is the need to assist and support the sector in regional planning, including recognition of the role of colleges and their involvement in inward investment as key contributors to regional economies. Regional economic growth across the country is imperative for our geographic communities, building connectiveness and bringing opportunities together, again gaining impact for people and places. Colleges can be at the centre of regional economies, as strong hubs for engaging business, industry and enterprise.
As a third example, we’ve also asked for the Scottish Government, for Ministers, to work with colleges, at pace, to deliver the changes students need with an agreed vision for the college sector. We are at a point following an international public health crisis that recovery can be – and I would argue should be – led by renewing our national skills base, with colleges at the heart of that action. When colleges thrive Scotland thrives, and as part of the public sector delivering solutions to our economic and social challenges while supporting students and connecting with our communities, colleges are ideally placed to be at the heart of this renewal.
Colleges Scotland is now looking to work together with Scottish Government, SFC and other stakeholders to implement these key priority recommendations. We should work together to quickly find the realistic actions that can be delivered for the benefit of the college sector in Scotland, and for the benefit of our students, staff, and communities.