EDUCATION secretary Michael Russell has been accused of “supreme self-importance” after making a video of himself to be played at college graduations.
The SNP government distributed the recording to further education institutions telling them they “may wish to show [it] at graduation ceremonies” or on college websites and social media platforms.
Government officials have also requested colleges let them know “when and how” they plan to use the video message.
But last night, opposition parties pointed out that college funding had been cut by more than £50 million in recent years, and staff and student numbers slashed.
In the video, Mr Russell tells students that graduation is about “more than gaining a certificate”.
“You’ll have had the opportunity to develop as a person, as well as a student,” he reflects. “Perhaps you now feel more confident speaking to new people you meet, perhaps you have new confidence to learn new things, to do things differently, to extend and improve your relationships with others.”
He adds: “You’ve made an enormous investment in your future, society’s future and in Scotland’s future. I think you should be ambitious and be bold.”
The message came to light after an e-mail was distributed to colleges last week. It stated Mr Russell “has recorded a short message which you may wish to show at your graduation ceremonies, on your college website and your social media platforms. We would be grateful if you could let us know when and how you plan to use the video message”.
The recording was not sent to universities, with a government spokesman insisting it was “very specific” to colleges.
The spokesman added: “The cabinet secretary for education and lifelong learning is keen to show his full support for young people’s successes, including their achievements in college.”
But the move came under fire from Scottish Conservative spokeswoman Mary Scanlon.
She said: “Is it not difficult enough to spend years at college working towards graduation without having to suffer five minutes of Mike Russell by videolink? This is supposed to be a day of celebration for the students and lecturers, whose hard work over many years is being recognised. It is an extremely proud day for those involved, and shouldn’t be used as a chance to grandstand by the education secretary.”
Ms Scanlon said there would have been an “outcry” if UK Education Secretary Michael Gove had distributed a similar recording to colleges in England.
“Perhaps Mike Russell would like to use this opportunity to apologise to colleges by video for the tens of millions of pounds the SNP has removed from college budgets,” she said.
A report by spending watchdog Audit Scotland shows that between 2010-11 and 2011-12, student numbers at colleges fell by almost 50,000 while 1,000 teaching posts were cut and there were five million fewer teaching hours. A further £25m was cut from the budget this year and legislation brought in to merge colleges as part of 13 new regions. Teaching unions and student leaders say teaching quality is at risk from the cuts.
Liberal Democrat education spokesman Liam McArthur said: “In an act of supreme self-importance, Mike Russell plans to gate-crash the party of every college student in Scotland.
“If he takes the opportunity to apologise for slashing college budgets, cutting thousands of courses and forcing hundreds of staff out of their jobs, it may serve a purpose. If not, it will be seen as a self-indulgent stunt.”
Labour spokesman Neil Bibby said: “If he wants to congratulate students then he should actually turn up rather than provide the equivalent of the Queen’s speech.”