SNP mismanagement sees cuts to Scotland's colleges that are damaging people's lives and the economy – Jackie Baillie

After 17 years of nationalist government, further education is in turmoil

There are few sectors more wounded and neglected by the 17 years of SNP government than Scottish colleges. Over two decades, further education colleges have been starved of resources, gone through forced amalgamations and seen courses stripped back. The offer to students is steadily being reduced to a rump of what the population’s educational needs are and what the economy requires.

Lecturers at Scottish colleges continued with their targeted strike action this week, part of a rolling programme of industrial action, which is beginning to feel like a rear-guard in defence of the college sector as a whole, rather than a straightforward demand for fair pay.

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The spectre of redundancies hangs over college staff each day with budget cuts already leading to hundreds losing their jobs, the majority of them lecturers. That the sector hasn’t moved to large-scale compulsory redundancies is mainly due to dispirited staff resigning, retiring or “volunteering” for redundancies.

A vital stepping stone

Colleges are carrying vast deficits with the sector losing more than £32.7 million in funding in the last financial year. As a result, every college in every town in Scotland is cutting back on courses and on staff. Their own forecasts predict that more than 400 lecturing jobs will be lost across Scotland, each one a blow to the provision of learning for students.

Already withdrawn in some colleges is the vital provision of in-person study support for National Five and Higher exams with tutoring moving online. Colleges offer this route back into education mainly to students who have left school as an opportunity to gain access to further and higher education.

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This is a vital stepping stone for people who, for one reason or another, did not get educational traction in a school environment. Offering these courses remotely for a cohort of young people who lost out on classroom learning because of the pandemic seems a cruel twist to the Covid saga.

That one example shows how cuts to the college sector simply pile on the inequalities in Scottish society with those who most need access to education losing out. Colleges and further education are vital tools in closing the poverty-related attainment gap. Cuts to colleges affect students from disadvantaged backgrounds the most.

We’re all worse off

There is, of course, a detrimental effect on the surrounding community and not just in the direct job losses of lecturers and staff. The college sector at its best is fine-tuned to the needs of the local economy, producing a trained workforce that fits into the existing skills sector or adapts quickly to new opportunities. All that educational expertise is in danger of being lost and our businesses and economy will be the poorer for it.

The current round of rolling strikes in the long-running dispute is essentially about pay. College lecturers are being offered below cost-of-living increases – that’s the result of 17 years of SNP underfunding of the sector. We know that the cuts to the college sector don’t just leave the workforce worse off, it leaves us all the poorer.

Jackie Baillie is MSP for Dumbarton, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader and her party’s spokesperson for health



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