Leaders: College is as important as university

Sir Ian Wood reports those who do not make the grade for a place at university are being failed. Picture: Stephen Mansfield
Sir Ian Wood reports those who do not make the grade for a place at university are being failed. Picture: Stephen Mansfield
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THERE can be no more important advantage in a young person’s life than access to a good education. Through learning, the loftiest ambitions may be realised.

We are proud in Scotland that our universities are frequently ranked among the world’s best. And, with its no-tuition fees policy, the Scottish Government has made clear its desire to see that as many young people as possible are given the opportunity to benefit from time at these seats of learning.

This positive story about bright young things making the most of themselves thanks to the munificence of the state is, however, only part of the picture.

Yes, every developed country must compete in a knowledge economy and, yes, it is essential that our universities continue to guide future thinkers and innovators.

But, as a commission led by businessman Sir Ian Wood reports, those who do not make the grade for a place at university are being failed. Sir Ian and his colleagues, having examined how best we can develop a successful Scottish workforce, conclude that there is too little focus on supporting young Scots to whom academia does not call.

We are simply not, they say, preparing or equipping those young people for the world of work.

Sir Ian warns that the education system is too concerned with the 50 per cent with academic aspirations while the other half are given “fill-in things to do” until they leave school with “no real purpose, fast becoming bored and frustrated”.

It would be difficult to argue with the commission’s view that, in Scotland, vocational education is seen a “significantly inferior option” to university.

But unless we find a way to shake off this destructively instinct, we may be marching into a workforce crisis where there simply aren’t the candidates ready and able to take on roles in a range of trades. Remember, sometimes it is a lifestyle choice. We agree with Sir Ian’s recommendation that schools and colleges should focus on providing the skills and qualifications that non-academic students need if they are to find themselves in decent employment, and we welcome youth employment secretary Angela Constance’s promise of a “hearts and minds” campaign to make studying at college more attractive.

But simply encouraging young people to go to college is not enough. Once there, they must learn things that genuinely improve their employment prospects. It will take more than a PR campaign to ensure that schools and colleges are offering young people what they need.

The findings of Sir Ian Wood’s commission provide substantial challenges for the Scottish Government. Ministers must rise to meet these challenges.

The prospects for a nation focused on developing thinkers while failing to develop do-ers are grim, indeed.

Neil has a duty of care over implants

MEMBERS of the Scottish Parliament yesterday heard stories of great pain and suffering from women who’d undergone a medical procedure that they had expected would positively transform their lives.

In a frequently emotional session of Holyrood’s petitions committee, women told of horrifying complications after receiving tape and mesh implants designed to deal with incontinence.

MSPs were told that as many as one in five mesh implants can go wrong and, with 11,000 Scottish women having undergone the procedure, a great many women may be suffering terrible consequences after an operation they believed to be routine.

Campaigners yesterday called for the suspension of the procedure until a full investigation into its use has been carried out. Health secretary Alex Neil did not follow that recommendation, but he has written to the chairman of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency seeking a meeting to discuss concerns about these implants.

That is certainly a positive step, but it may be small comfort to the women who yesterday described their suffering. Not only must Mr Neil proceed with this meeting, but he must also return from it with some positive news for campaigners and sufferers.

The women who gave evidence to MSPs yesterday believed they were going to hospital for operations that would improve their lives. Instead, in some instances, their lives have been all but ruined.

We look forward with hope to the outcome of the health secretary’s meeting with medical regulators. This is an issue that demands his strictest attention and needs to be resolved as soon as possible.