That news is disappointing. I understand that the decision by Ayrshire College to close the Cumnock campus was due to a fall in student numbers, with students choosing to attend the other campuses, including the recently refurbished Ayr campus. The college advises, however, that it will continue to work with its partners and will run short courses at locations across the area to help people to develop employability skills.
Looking ahead, the new £53 million campus in Kilmarnock, which is due to open next year, will provide more opportunities in state-of-the-art facilities for learners across the region.
I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for that response. She will understand the difficulties that are faced by people who live in the Cumnock area, which is a challenged area because of unemployment and other past upsets.
Women’s access is an important issue for the Government. The announcement has come as a great shock to people in Cumnock because of the closure’s impact not only on the economy, but on access to opportunities. Will the cabinet secretary take steps to ensure that what can be done will be done in relation to education in the area?
It is imperative that Ayrshire College continues to work with the community in order to reassure and convince people that it remains, despite the closure of the Cumnock campus, committed to providing learning opportunities in the area.
Graeme Pearson might be interested to note that the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council’s outcome agreement guidance sets the expectation that colleges will offer a wide range of further education provision in locations across regions, thereby making FE more accessible to students.
I said that Ayrshire College intends to work with local partners to identify alternative venues for the two part-time courses that are currently offered. It will also have to work with the student association to support students during the transition to a new location.
The cabinet secretary will know about the expense that students incur when they have to travel for courses. People in Cumnock are concerned about the additional cost to students in that regard. There is a perception in the area that courses have been transferred to other campuses, which has disadvantaged the Cumnock campus.
Discussions have been going on about the future of the crèche facilities in the Ayr and Kilwinning campuses, which is also of concern to constituents in the context of access to education. I hope that the cabinet secretary will take further interest in those matters.
I will, of course, continue to take an interest in those matters.
I appreciate the tone and tenor of Mr Pearson’s comments. He might be interested to note that students who live more than 2 miles from their college are eligible to apply for assistance with travel costs.
Closure of the Ayr and Kilwinning campus nurseries is a decision for Ayrshire College, which says that despite its endeavours to increase demand, the two nurseries have been struggling to break even. Currently 37 children use the facilities, at a cost to the college of £400,000. I will continue to make inquiries, as will local members, to test the nature of the information that comes our way.
Does the cabinet secretary understand my concern about the college’s lack of consultation of the community about the decision? The lack of transparency and openness compares unfavourably with, for example, the approach that is taken under the protocol for school closure proposals.
What discussions have taken place between the Scottish Government and Ayrshire College? Can the cabinet secretary reassure the Cumnock community in relation to the impact on the level and quality of college provision for my constituents?
I share some of Mr Ingram’s concerns. It is important to say firmly that consultation should never be regarded as an extra and must be part of how the Government and public services conduct themselves.
I am aware of the particular challenges that face the community in Cumnock—not least its comparative isolation and long-standing high unemployment, which has been mentioned. I reiterate to Mr Ingram and to other members who have an interest in the matter my disappointment at the decision. We will continue to work together to ensure that the college mitigates the impact of the closure.
My officials have sought reassurance from the college that plans are in place to continue to enable local residents to meet their aspirations to learn and study. For students who attend the Cumnock campus, the college is, with its local partners, identifying an alternative location for delivery.