THE number of students in Scotland’s colleges has fallen by more than 120,000 since the SNP came to power in 2007, new figures show.
• Student numbers drop by over 120,000 since 2007
• SNP hails increase in full-time students, but opponents accuse SNP over cut in part-time places
Statistics released yesterday by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) show that while the number of full-time learners has increased by 19 per cent, there has been an overall reduction in student numbers by 121,320.
The figures also showed the number of 16 and 17 year olds in full-time further education - a group the Scottish Government has identified as key to its reforms of the sector - has fallen by 14 per cent.
The country’s colleges are currently involved in a major shake-up as the Scottish Government seeks to reduce costs and place more focus on the needs of young people looking to find a job.
Education secretary Mike Russell said the rise in full-time learners was “excellent news” for colleges, but Scottish Labour said the “shameful reality” was that the cut in part-time places was hitting the poorest students.
Labour’s education spokesman Hugh Henry said: “This is another attempt by the SNP to cook the books, this time on college students. They are trying to hide the shameful reality of 121,000 fewer students in our colleges compared to when the SNP came to power. Their artificial target ignores the massive cuts in the numbers of part-time students which is hitting hardest in our poorest communities.
“The biggest victims of the SNP’s neglect of our colleges, however, aren’t just the estimated 21,000 young Scots on waiting lists for places. It’s also the adults who want to retrain, it’s the mother who wants to take a part-time course to learn new skills and get out into the job market. The SNP has axed part-time courses and SNP MSPs insult those students by calling them ‘hobby courses’.”
According to the SFC, which provides money to universities and colleges on behalf of the Scottish Government, much of the reduction in part-time places was due to a 55,000 fall in the number of those studying on programmes designed to be completed in under 10 hours. A total of 61,304 students aged by 16 and 24 were on full-time courses, the highest-ever number on record, according to the government.
But while there was an increase in the number of students completing a full-time course, more than a third do not finish their studies.
John Henderson, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said: “Part-time study still remains the main way that people choose to study in colleges, allowing those in work or with other commitments to fit learning around their needs.
“Short courses and non-recognised qualifications are a key part of colleges’ offering of flexible options for learners. They are often there to reintroduce students to learning, and so widen access to education. Around 40 per cent of this activity is supporting students with additional learning needs, and
it’s essential that these trends are monitored to ensure no unintended impacts on those who rely most on this kind of provision.”
While Scotland’s universities have seen their funding increased, colleges are dealing with cuts to their budgets at a time when many are embarking on a period of considerable change, including mergers with nearby institutions.
Education secretary Mike Russell said: “These figures are excellent news for Scotland’s college sector, which is focused on delivering full-time courses to further improve the job prospects of our young people. Today’s figures demonstrate that colleges have not just fulfilled that role, they have done even more, exceeding targets, while also being more efficient.
“Not only are our student numbers targets being exceeded, but more young people than ever before are benefiting from full time courses and more are successfully completing their studies. This is especially true for young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds.”