Scotland's Colleges face deficit and falling student numbers, warns Audit Scotland

Written by Tom Freeman on 22 June 2017 in News

Audit Scotland report reveals lowest college student numbers in nearly a decade and deficit of £19m

Edinburgh College - Jisc

The number of people studying in Scotland’s colleges has dropped to the lowest since 2006, a report by Audit Scotland has revealed.

The spending watchdog's review into the sector also warned deficits were increasing while settling the national pay dispute will lead to rising costs.

The report said the number of full time equivalent (FTE) students was at its lowest since 2006, representing almost 160,000 fewer students at Scotland’s colleges since the SNP took power.


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Part time student numbers are falling at a greater rate than full time student numbers.

However the percentage of those completing their courses has risen.

Meanwhile overall income to colleges has reduced, the underlying deficit has increased to £8m and colleges hold £11m less cash than in 2014-15.

Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland, said: "There is a growing risk to colleges' ability to keep delivering what the Scottish Government requires from the sector, as a result of major financial challenges and a declining student population.

"Colleges need to plan ahead so their future budgets can withstand the impact of cost pressures. Demand for college courses and the effects of demographic shifts also need to be assessed so educational provision can be designed around these."

The Scottish government said the method of calculating student numbers had changed, but opposition parties and teaching union the EIS expressed concern over the figures.

EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan welcomed improvement on attainment.

“However, the EIS is concerned with the continuing drop in student numbers which follows on from last year’s similar decline - particularly in the number of part-time students," he said.

"We are concerned that funding across the sector for the year 2017-18 will only increase by 1% after some exceptional capital funding at Forth Valley College is excluded."

Shona Struthers, Chief Executive, Colleges Scotland said: “We acknowledge that the report highlights some of the challenges facing the sector. The news comes as little surprise as the 2016 Audit Scotland Report highlighted a growing number of colleges facing financial challenges and the colleges’ accounts published in April 2017 confirmed this. We appreciate the Scottish Government’s additional funding made available for 2017/18, which recognises the circumstances the sector faces but the overall number of colleges forecasting deficits is increasing and this is not a sustainable situation."

Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Liz Smith said the SNP had neglected the sector.

“These figures show fewer people are entering college than at any time since the nationalists came to power, and they have to explain why they’ve let this happen," she said.

“Businesses are crying out for young people with skills that colleges are best placed to teach. And people of all ages, in all circumstances, are being let down by the contempt with which the SNP treats part-time courses, which have now dropped by 18 per cent.

“These part-time courses are crucial to improving flexibility within the labour market and to enhancing opportunities for those who can find themselves further removed from that labour market.

Scottish Labour’s inequalities spokesperson Monica Lennon said: “This is a damming report on a decade of SNP cuts to colleges. Thousands of young people have had their opportunities cut off by an SNP government which has bled college budgets dry.

“This report highlights the mess SNP ministers have made of pay deals for college lecturers and the huge cost it will take to settle the deal.

 “The theme here is constant – further education simply needs more funding. Only Labour is proposing using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to stop these cuts and invest instead.

Scottish Government funding to the college sector will increase by five per cent between 2015/16 and 2017/18, though the bulk of this increase relates to a capital project at Forth Valley College.

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