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Summer Series Blog – Alison Payne

Alison PayneWelcome to the Summer Series of blogs, where thinkers and experts give their views on colleges in Scotland and on what the future may hold. The views expressed are the views of the author. Alison Payne is Research Director at Reform Scotland. Enjoy Blog 6.

Are some “positive destinations” more positive than others? James Withers commented in his recent report: “all pathways which support a positive destination for an individual have equal merit and should have equal status and esteem within the system and society”.

Reform Scotland would certainly agree with his statement. Unfortunately, as the Skills Delivery Landscape Review goes on to highlight, in reality there is no such parity of esteem and it is to our collective shame, and ultimate loss, that we do not properly value colleges and the role they play in Scotland.

Our colleges establish and develop important links with their local communities and businesses and are vital to help with re-skilling and up-skilling. They also are crucial at helping deliver education opportunities in more deprived areas – as Colleges Scotland’s Key Facts highlight 23% of school leavers go on to further education, increasing to 34% from the most deprived areas. 41% of full-time first-degree entrants from the 20% most deprived areas progressed to university after graduating from college.

Perhaps too many of us are personally less invested in the future of further education, or think it doesn’t affect us. Perhaps, because FE is wrongly seen as a “lesser” choice or aimed at more disadvantaged people and communities, more of us have not been more vocal about cuts to the sector. But those views are badly in need of re-education – we all benefit when the colleges sector is thriving.

For example, there has been a great deal of speculation over the summer about changes to regulations covering how we heat our homes. By 2030 the Scottish Government is aiming to decarbonise one million homes. For that to be achieved, households will need to move away from traditional gas boilers for heating, towards zero-carbon alternatives such as air source pumps. But how can we change the way we heat our homes without the trained workforce required?

Thousands of new ‘green’ jobs are being created as part of the drive towards Net Zero. As Anne Campbell from Ayrshire College has previously highlighted in an article for Reform Scotland, “it is Scotland’s colleges which are the workhorses which will provide the skills needed to make it happen. The Government’s environmental plans depend on colleges somehow, training, re-training and upskilling tomorrow’s workforce to fulfil the ambition of this green revolution, so does the economy.”

But how can colleges provide that key service when they have consistently received lower funding per head than schools and universities for decades and are facing regular budget cuts?

If we want to have thriving local communities; a growing economy and reach net zero we simply cannot afford to keep treating colleges as the Cinderella service in education. It is in all our interests to speak up for our colleges.

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