THE number of students at Scottish colleges has fallen by more than 100,000 in the past three years, with hours of learning cut by almost 10 million, new figures show.
Staff numbers have also dropped by almost 7,000, according to a series of key facts published by education body Colleges Scotland.
The figures follow a series of college mergers that created 10 larger regionalised institutions as part of the Scottish Government’s wider post-16 education reforms.
The SNP administration argued the mergers would deliver efficiency savings and combine teaching expertise, but Scottish Labour said the latest figures are evidence of a “disgraceful record” on education.
The party’s education spokeswoman, Kezia Dugdale MSP, said: “The SNP has targeted our colleges for cuts and the consequence has been young people and second-chance learners being denied opportunities to get on in life.”
The statistics undermine claims by the Yes campaign that September’s referendum on Scottish independence is focused on young people, she said.
Ms Dugdale said: “We know a Yes vote will put at risk some of the one million jobs which are dependent on the UK and the SNP’s failure to invest in training and skills will make it more difficult for people to gain opportunities.
“The best future for Scotland is one where we make the key decisions about education and jobs at the Scottish Parliament but use the strength and stability of the United Kingdom to invest in young people and create opportunities for them.”
There were 238,805 Scottish college students in the academic year 2012-13, down from 347,336 in 2009-10.
Over the same period, the hours of learning delivered by colleges fell from 83.4 million to 73.7 million, while staff numbers dropped from 20,686 to 13,761.
Shona Struthers, acting chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said the figures are a “simple snapshot” of where the college sector stands.
She said: “Colleges across Scotland are doing excellent work for their communities and the economy and want to do more.
“This year we’ll be campaigning for additional funding during the budget negotiations so that we can increase student numbers and strengthen our contribution to Scotland’s economy.”