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by Shona Struthers, Chief Executive at Colleges Scotland
16 November 2021
Associate Feature: A properly-funded college sector is an economic necessity for Scotland

Associate Feature: A properly-funded college sector is an economic necessity for Scotland

The need for fit-for-purpose education which provides the competencies needed for the workforce has never been greater.

Scotland’s colleges, as the nation’s largest skills and training providers, are key to resolving what has become a business-critical problem for our economy.

The 2021 Business Barometer report produced by the Open University and the Institute of Directors last month found that 62 per cent of businesses in Scotland have a skills shortage, with 59 per cent reporting they are “struggling” as a direct result.

Two or three decades ago, new entrants to the labour market taking the first steps on the career ladder could reasonably expect the foundations of work would always be stable. That’s no longer the case – some industries have been transformed by emerging technologies, others have been disrupted by global market changes and events, and there are completely new sectors of our economy which did not exist even a few years ago. 

Because of this flux, recognising and responding quickly to the changing needs of employers and the wider economy are why colleges are so vital for the education provision now, and in the future. 

By providing the skills which are directly linked to the requirements of business, colleges are already providing a reliable, qualified stream of graduates into the Scottish economy. And by supplying the lifelong learning opportunities – enabling upskilling and reskilling for people at any stage of their career or profession – colleges are essential for the future economic success of Scotland.

Colleges uniquely tap into all sectors of our society, providing opportunities to fulfil the potential of every learner regardless of their starting point, with around 240,000 students attending college each year. 24 per cent of all higher education is delivered in Scotland’s colleges.

Equally important for meeting the demands of the economy are the 81,795 learners who are studying while they are working, learning new skills or upgrading qualifications. This kind of agile education which supports people as they are working will be a critical part of our economic recovery story. 

The education provided in colleges is structured to deliver the competencies needed by students and required by employers looking to hire, with 95 per cent of all learning hours leading directly to a recognised qualification.

Every year thousands of SQA qualifications are gained in colleges, alongside qualifications from over 100 other providers including professional certification from a huge variety of sectors. Colleges commitment to delivering world-class education and technical skills is why the sector has become a first-choice destination for so many full-time and part-time students.

Earlier this month the Scottish Funding Council’s Student Satisfaction Survey reported that 87 per cent of Further Education and 82 per cent of Higher Education students believed their time at college had helped them develop knowledge and skills for the workplace. And last month the SFC also reported that, despite the pandemic, 84 per cent of college graduates had still gone on to positive destinations.

All those reasons are why a properly-funded college sector which is allowed to plan and budget effectively for the future has become an economic necessity.

Emerging Green industries and fields like cyber-technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning will all offer careers which will require the adaptive and reactive skill sets taught in our colleges.

Vocational, technical and professional learning which meets the new demands of employers and which will provide the expertise needed by a new generation of entrepreneurs is essential if we are to prevent economic stagnation.

And Scotland’s colleges, which have a unique and direct association with the business world and the wider local communities they serve, are the best delivery agents for those ever-changing requirements.

By providing the opportunities for every student to achieve their full potential, colleges will also make it possible for Scotland’s economy to do the same.

This article was sponsored by Colleges Scotland

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