Humza Yousaf cancels college trip while ordering all Cabinet colleagues to visit a college

First minister gives SNP ministers ‘homework’ while withdrawing from Colleges Scotland event

Humza Yousaf pulled out of a planned trip to a Scottish college while at the same time ordering his Cabinet to go out and recognise the huge value of the sector.

The First Minister was due to open the Colleges Scotland conference at the City of Glasgow College on Wednesday morning, but sent education secretary Jenny Gilruth instead at the last minute.

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Ms Gilruth passed on the SNP leader's apologies and revealed Mr Yousaf had handed his Cabinet the "homework" of each visiting a college before the end of this year, in order to report back with ideas on how the Government can improve support for institutions that have long felt undervalued.

It comes as the sector faces "dire" challenges in the wake of real terms funding cuts of 8.5 per cent since 2021, and a further 8 per cent for the coming year, as well as ongoing industrial action.

Ms Gilruth was not able to promise any new money to reverse that trend when she addressed about 140 delegates at the Colleges Scotland conference, despite being reminded of the need for investment by Shona Struthers, the umbrella body’s chief executive.

However, the education secretary did signal the Government intends to agree a request from the sector that would allow colleges to keep 70 per cent of the proceeds from asset sales, for the money to be reinvested in buildings, some of which have fallen into a serious state of disrepair. Profits from sales are currently returned to Government agencies.

In her opening remarks to the annual conference, Ms Struthers had earlier challenged politicians from all parties to "recognise and value" the contribution of colleges.

"The simple fact is that when colleges thrive, Scotland thrives," she said.

Ms Gilruth agreed, saying: "For too long, many people thought of going to college as a second choice - an idea rooted in that prejudice of the past, and not in tune with the aspirations and requirements of modern Scotland.

“So many of the skills that we need - technical and in specialised industries - will come from our colleges, and the most obvious and the most pressing example relates to the skills we will need in relation to the just transition to net zero."

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She added: “So the First Minister has set us some homework, and that is for all of us to visit a college before the end of this year, to feed back the role that Cabinet secretaries see that colleges will play in furthering the Government's priorities in their areas of responsibility.

“If ministers come back with ideas of where Government can ensure that colleges can work more closely together, then those ideas will be given due consideration.

“Because fundamentally colleges aren't just about my responsibility as Cabinet secretary for education, they support the work of the whole of Government, so the whole of Government needs to support the work of our colleges."

Asked why Mr Yousaf had cancelled his planned appearance, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister's schedule is often subject to change, and the Cabinet secretary for education is pleased to open the conference.”



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