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Colleges face ‘challenging financial situation’ according to Audit Scotland report

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A report by Audit Scotland has suggested that change is required in the college sector in Scotland to ensure that colleges remain “financially sustainable in the long term”.

The report, which was published on 7 July highlights that while “Covid‑19 funding contributed to the college sector reporting a healthier than expected financial position in 2020-21”, maintaining the high standard of teaching within colleges and also participating in other areas of Scottish Government policy in the current financial position will be “difficult”.

Commenting upon publication of the report, Stephen Boyle who is the Auditor General for Scotland said

“The challenging financial situation facing colleges will make it difficult for the sector to balance the delivery of high-quality courses and Scottish Government priorities.

“Changes are needed to ensure the sector is financially sustainable in the long-term and more students successfully complete their courses.”

The Auditor General also called on the Scottish Government to work with the Student Funding Council actioning the recommendations that it made in a report last year, at “the earliest opportunity”

Commenting on the findings of the report, Jamie Hepburn MSP, the Scottish Government minister for higher education, further education, youth employment and training said the Scottish Government welcomed the Audit Scotland report and “will consider its recommendations carefully”

Hepburn added that the Scottish Government will “continue to work with the Scottish Funding Council, and our colleges, to ensure funding continues to enable them to deliver high-quality education and training”

The Minister concluded by acknowledging the impact of the pandemic on education for students. He said: “The Scottish Government is investing nearly £2bn in Scotland’s colleges and universities in 2022-23.

“We know some students’ learning was inevitably disrupted as a result of COVID-19. However, more than  90% of those who were unable to complete their studies in 2019-20  due to the pandemic have returned to college by 2021-22, according to the latest College Performance Indicators. Work continues to re-engage the remaining students across 2019-20 and 2020-21.”

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Colleges Scotland, which represents colleges in Scotland collectively said that whilst the report “highlights many of the challenges facing Scotland’s colleges, particularly a financial squeeze in the next few years which will make it difficult to continue to deliver the same volume of learning as in previous years, as well as the need for greater capital investment”

The sector “has proven itself incredibly adaptive and resilient in recent times and will continue to do everything possible to provide the lifelong learning opportunities our students demand and deserve.”

Image credit: Forth Valley college

When approached for comment about the publication of the Audit Scotland report a spokesperson for Forth Valley College, which has a campus in Stirling said: “Forth Valley College welcomes the Audit Scotland report which highlights the challenges which the sector is facing, the need for significant investment and the requirement for the Scottish Government and the SFC to support colleges to plan for change now to make best use of available funding.

“At Forth Valley College, we recently undertook a comprehensive transformation plan reflecting the challenging financial environment outlined in the recent Audit Scotland Report and also in line with the changing external environment following the pandemic.  This was essential to ensure the organisation continues to remain financially sustainable and able to deliver for students and stakeholders in line with the College’s 2030 vision. 

The spokesperson added that “it’s important that we continually evolve in line with any challenges faced and also new opportunities” and that because of the changes which were outlined in the Forth Valley College ‘transformation plan’ this “will ensure the security and long-term future of the organisation and will also enable us to continue to provide the best possible learning experiences for our students.”

Feature Image Credit: Scottish Funding Council

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