The college sector has seen increased involvement from employers as a result of the college merger process. Through outcome agreements with the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council, colleges are committed to delivering vocational pathways, apprenticeships and workplace learning in partnership with employers.
Over the Scottish National Party Government’s first eight years, the number of part-time students who are aged over 25 fell from 179,685 in 2007-08 to 82,402 in 2014-15, which is a staggering reduction of 54 per cent. Will the Scottish Government commit to revising its decimation of college places and improve the current situation for students and employers?
The Scottish Government has a target of 116,000 full-time equivalent places, which we have fulfilled. We are ensuring that our college places are based on what the economy needs. That includes not just full-time places but part-time places, which are funded. In particular, places are funded to ensure that they are based on the needs of the local economy and local employers. That applies to both part-time and full-time courses.
I recently learned of the fascinating skilled trade of scientific glass blowing, which is carried out in East Kilbride. It struck me that recognised skills shortages are coming up and I have been told that there is a great concern about a skills shortage in scientific glass blowing. Are there particular initiatives that offer incentives and help to start up college courses when there is a recognised potential skills shortage?
Colleges respond well to meet employment demands from particular employers in their areas. Linda Fabiani mentioned a demand that is specific to her area, and I believe that the British Society of Scientific Glassblowers has applied to the Scottish Qualifications Authority for an award qualification. If that request is granted, colleges could offer that qualification and ensure that people could meet the demand and receive a progression route into existing higher education courses.
The Audit Scotland report on colleges that was published over the summer identified that there has been a 6 per cent fall in teaching numbers and cited Unison and Educational Institute of Scotland surveys that indicated high levels of dissatisfaction. What is the impact of the reduction in teaching numbers on the ability of Scotland’s colleges to deliver high-quality education?
The Audit Scotland report on colleges also highlighted that students have positive feelings towards the courses that they are doing and that there is a high level of satisfaction. I am pleased that that is the case in our colleges. In many ways, that is because of the policies that the Government has put in place to ensure that we have a financially stable college sector that is built on what the economy needs and which delivers for local people.