Improving retention is a priority for colleges and universities. It is one of the key performance indicators that the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council evaluates as part of the outcome agreement process. The funding council also continues to invest strategic funds to support improvement. That has delivered progress. Retention rates in the college sector have improved since 2008-09 and are at record levels in the university sector. However, we want to continue to make progress, and the Students Association of the University of the West of Scotland is to be commended for its contribution to this important issue.
Although summer support is an ambition for students, recent figures released by the Scottish funding council have revealed a £2.4 million shortfall in the term-time bursary funds available for college students. What is the cabinet secretary doing to address that shortfall in support of our further education students?
Support for students in the FE sector is at a record high of £105 million, which is a 29 per cent real-terms increase over the term of office of this Government. It is important to recognise that retention levels in FE have increased to 75 per cent, and we want those retention rates to be higher. In higher education they are 83 per cent. University retention rates are at 91 per cent—as I said in my original answer, they are at record levels.
We know that retention is a complex matter, as was ably explained and indicated in the Ruth Silver report. We know that institutions are developing more sophisticated and adept means both to identify students who need additional support and to enhance their pastoral care of students.
The cabinet secretary is aware of the poor retention rates among students at UWS, particularly first-year students, from the student manifesto, which seeks to have the problem resolved. I am pleased to hear of the meeting with Jack Douglas tomorrow.
What progress has been made on implementing the student manifesto, which highlights the problem? Will any new protocols be put in place for this summer to address the matter?
It is a very live issue, and Mr Scott raised it with me when we last had education and lifelong learning portfolio questions. At that point, he was seeking clarity about retention funds. I am pleased to say that the widening access and retention fund of £14.7 million is still in place. That will facilitate further work in the area.