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Colleges Scotland Conference 2024 - Right Place, Right Time, Right Person

By Claire Vekic, Policy Officer  

Photo of Louise MurphyThe Colleges Scotland conference held at City of Glasgow college on 24 April was a real celebration of the transformative impact a college experience has on people’s lives.

One of our sessions focused on Education, Equality and the Economy and we were lucky to hear from two fantastic speakers - Louise Murphy, Senior Economist at the Resolution Foundation, and Professor John McKendrick, Commissioner for Fair Access.

Louise talked to us about research findings carried out over a three-year period by the Resolution Foundation into young people, mental health and worklessness. Sadly, mental health issues are seriously impacting our young people, with one-in-three (34%) of young people aged 18-24 reporting symptoms of a common mental health disorder (CMD) like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.

In 2000, less one-in-four (24%) reported these problems, so the difference over the last twenty years is staggering.

The impact poor mental health has on young people’s employment prospects makes for sobering reading. The dial has shifted since the 1990s where it was mainly older people out of work due to due physical health problems. Now, it’s the younger generation who are suffering, with one-in-five (21%) of 18-24-year-olds out of work due to mental health problems. We think of the younger generation as high-energy and full of excitement starting out on their careers, but sadly, this is not the reality for many of our young people.

Colleges are key to improving the lives of our young people, and it was heartening to hear Louise reflect on this crucial point. Colleges understand that supporting learners is more than just signposting to the services available, they work together to create a seamless experience. College provides an environment where learners are nurtured and supported from day one, to achieve their full potential.

But, colleges need adequate and sustainable investment to continue to show up for their learners. The continued funding of counselling services within colleges, for example, is crucial so that we can continue to provide the wraparound support our young people so desperately need. Without this, we will not see these shocking figures get any better.

Photo of Professor John McKendrickProfessor John McKendrick is another champion of the college sector. John’s role focuses on widening access to Higher Education opportunities, however, he is keen for that approach to be broadened to include colleges, as he values the role of our sector in changing the lives of individuals.

It’s not a question of simply including colleges in the fair access agenda, though. John touched on some potential issues with the approach – namely the fact that further education is already over-represented with individuals from deprived areas.

So, acknowledging it won’t be easy, John asked us:

How do we make the case for colleges to be included in the fair access agenda, and…

Photo of Joanna CampbellAre we ready for the challenge this would create?

I think the college sector stands ready to take on any challenge the world wants to give us. We change lives, for the better.

When colleges thrive, Scotland thrives.

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