College funding cut risks Scotland 'sliding into a skills emergency'
Finance secretary Kate Forbes has been warned that Scotland is facing a “looming skills emergency” because of £51.9 million cut to college funding.
Colleges Scotland say the draft budget means the sector will lose £23.9 million because of inflation, with an additional £28 million removed because of the loss of Covid funding. This, they warn, could mean institutions forced to freeze recruitment, outsource support activities, and possibly even increase class sizes.
That forecast from the sector body doesn’t include the hit from increased pay and rising energy costs.
The warning comes ahead of the stage one budget debate on Thursday. The minority SNP government’s new co-operation deal with the Scottish Greens means this year’s spending plans will likely pass through the parliamentary process unchanged.
Ken Milroy Chair of Colleges Scotland, said this could mean further education institutions being "challenged in ways not seen for many years.”
“This is a real emergency for colleges coming after years of underinvestment. Regarding the sector, the debate on Thursday should focus on the perilous choices some colleges will now have to make, and on the significant challenge this Draft Budget poses for the next academic year.
“The total funding loss of £51.9 million means, for example, freezing recruitment, outsourcing support activities, possible changes to temporary contracts, increasing class sizes and consolidating classes.
"All of these would be a last resort, however after years of under investment this Budget leaves no more space to manoeuvre in. Unless there are improvements to the Budget, noticeable changes to colleges are inevitable."
He added: “We believe this risks Scotland sliding into a skills emergency. Even in the midst of a pandemic colleges have provided world class education and training to hundreds of thousands of students. But in order to continue there has to be investment based in reality. Scotland’s recovery depends on creating year after year a workforce that is qualified and able – but with the proposed Budget settlement, colleges will be challenged in ways not seen for many years.”
Responding to the comments, Jamie Hepburn, the Scottish Government's Further and Higher Education Minister, said: “Our colleges, universities and their staff are vital to our COVID recovery and we recognise the importance of sustainable funding, not only to the stability of our institutions but also the learning experience and well-being of our students.
“Throughout the pandemic colleges have demonstrated resilience and flexibility to continue delivering the courses to produce a skilled workforce. They are instrumental in any economic recovery strategy - working with the small and medium sized enterprise base on upskilling and re-skilling.
“In our 2022-23 Budget we will provide over £1.9 billion for Scotland’s universities and colleges – protecting their role in driving an inclusive economy, delivering high quality education and training for the future workforce. We know our colleges face significant financial challenges which have been exacerbated by the pandemic but we are working closely with them to mitigate the effects of the crisis.”