SNP accused of treating colleges with 'contempt' as true scale of funding cuts revealed
The Scottish Government has been accused of treating the nation’s struggling colleges with “contempt and neglect” after new figures showed funding has been slashed by more than 10 per cent in just two years.
Stark statistics produced by Colleges Scotland revealed that overall revenue support for the sector had fallen from £732.8m in 2021/22 to £696.3m in 2022/23, before being reduced again to £658.6m this year.
The figures, which do not take account of high inflation and rising costs, have emerged as thousands of college lecturers and support staff take strike action over pay.
Conservative education spokesman Liam Kerr claimed ministers had taken a “very deliberate decision” to starve colleges of cash.
Scotland’s 24 colleges play a key role in society and the economy, currently educating more than 236,000 students, including a quarter of school leavers, and a high proportion from poorer backgrounds.
However, many institutions are drawing up plans to axe jobs amid escalating costs and financial pressures, made worse by a U-turn by ministers in May which led to the withdrawal of a promised £26m uplift.
The Audit Scotland study said that Scottish Government revenue budgets for colleges comprised £675.7 million in each of 2021/22, 2022/23 and 2023/24 – which was a real-terms cut of 8.5 per cent, after inflation was factored in.
But these figures are for financial years. The statistics from Colleges Scotland, which represents the sector, show the amount broken down by academic year, and also include extra support provided during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It puts the actual amount of revenue funding at £732.8m in 2021/22, falling to £658.6m by this year, a 10 per cent drop, even before the impact of inflation is considered.
Mr Kerr, a north-east Tory MSP, said: “The Scottish Government has made a very deliberate decision to underfund Scottish colleges for a number of years.“These figures show yet another stark reduction, and that will have severe consequences for staff, students and the wider economy.“Colleges are so vital to Scotland in every single way, yet they’ve received nothing but contempt and neglect from this Scottish Government for far too long.”
The Scottish Government provides more than three-quarters of funding for colleges, through the Scottish Funding Council, although it has recently raised the prospect of a significant shake-up of the way it is resourced.
Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said: “Revenue funding – money for pay, classroom resources and running costs – has been falling for colleges over many years.
"There was a slight increase in funding during the pandemic to cover the unique costs colleges faced, but the overall trend is downwards. Funding cuts put colleges under acute pressure."
She added: “Colleges are doing a huge amount with reducing resources to meet the needs of employers who rightly need college graduates to have the skills and experience they need to enter work and thrive in the economy, but falling resources creates very challenging circumstances.
“Scotland’s colleges must receive fair funding in December’s Scottish Government Budget for 2024/25.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government recognises the crucial role that colleges play, which is why we have allocated a total of £787 million in funding for financial year 2023-24.
“The college resource funding allocated to the Scottish Funding Council has been maintained over the last three financial years, despite the unprecedented financial challenges caused by UK Government austerity"
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