Scotland’s colleges are key to skills-led national economic recovery
By Dr Waiyin Hatton, Chair, Colleges Scotland.
Last year, listening to Nicola Sturgeon deliver her Programme for Government, I cheered inside when she outlined a vision which included energy-efficient homes, green travel and a National Care Service, before closing her statement by pledging: “We will ensure businesses have the support, and people the skills, to succeed in the low-carbon economy of the future.”
As Chair of Colleges Scotland, I believe Scotland’s 26 colleges, educating hundreds of thousands of students each year, must be at the forefront of the minds of ministers. College alumni are the workforce of nurseries and care homes, staff our skilled construction industry, design digital solutions and, increasingly, "green graduates" are installing solar panels, repairing domestic heat pumps, planning wind farms and working in low-carbon technology.
Investment in the high-quality education and training colleges provide locally, and in tune with local needs, is obvious good value for the public purse, good for society, and good for students.
Sadly, the latest Budget from the Scottish Government results in a £51.9million cut to college funding. This will mean inevitable change to the amount of provision colleges offer and the way they deliver education. Colleges have already delivered huge savings to meet previous reductions in the sector’s budget. However, this latest huge reduction inevitably means that, rather than delivering more of the skilled, qualified students Scotland has never needed more, we may see fewer graduate. Instead of unlocking the potential of our students, our industries and our economy, we risk tying them down. We want to support the Scottish Government in any way we can to arrest this impact and to build a resilient and thriving Scotland.
So today I make a request to everyone within Scottish Government – the ministers working on restoring our country’s health, reforming social care, improving transport, building our digital infrastructure, and tackling the climate emergency – to remember their interdependencies with Scotland’s colleges. We are ready to deliver these ambitions. Investment in learning, skills and retraining will deliver the future success of so many of the contributors to the economy.
Scotland’s hospitality sector, for example, needs 48,000 staff to get back to pre-pandemic success. The chronic shortage of housing in Scotland will never be resolved if our colleges aren’t training bricklayers, joiners and electricians. The health and social care workforce is buoyed every year by newly-qualified students starting careers in hospitals, care homes, nurseries and supporting people to live independently in their own communities.
Scotland has a chance to “recover well” from the pandemic. But to do so, employees and employers need the skills pipeline to deliver. We are at a crossroads and Scotland’s colleges will work tirelessly with our industry partners to help the Scottish Government make the right decisions towards achieving their own bold goals to achieve national success. We are in this together.
Investing in the country’s biggest skills provider is an investment in the nation’s biggest opportunity for a skills-led recovery. When colleges thrive, Scotland thrives.