The Scottish Funding Council (@ScotFundCouncil) has today (Tuesday 20 October) published the findings of Phase 1 of its review of colleges and universities. The Phase 1 Report recognises the vital role of Scotland’s colleges and universities in transforming lives, supplying a pipeline of talent, supporting economic and social renewal, and forging global networks but it also points to the need for change and for a mature conversation about their future so that their continued success and sustainability can be secured.

The Phase 1 report reflects the views of more than 100 organisations and many individuals. It comes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic which has brought into sharp focus the financial challenges already facing Scotland’s colleges and universities. It identifies the need to address the immediate challenges facing the sector in the next two academic years but also shows there is a real appetite for a stimulating debate about what Scotland needs from tertiary education in the longer term.

Key findings from Phase 1 include the following:

  • We have an opportunity in Scotland to have a much more integrated tertiary education and skills system – where people can start in college and more easily transition to university, where people get credit for prior learning and don’t have to repeat levels of study, where people from disadvantaged backgrounds get access to the education, skills and apprenticeships they need, where there are good connections between the senior phase in school and the transition to college and university, where there are entry and exit points that make lifelong learning a reality, where we train people for the skills they will need for the future. That means we need to review the way we fund education and skills, and the way we track good outcomes for students, whatever stage they’re at in their journey.
  • We are in a middle of a digital revolution for learners – this is going to challenge the way students learn and will shape the student experience. We have a moment of inflection here – we have the opportunity to develop more efficient and high quality curriculums online, and support tutors and lecturing staff to harness this digital revolution for enhanced learning and teaching for students.
  • And we need to listen to students and make sure their interests are at the heart of everything we do.
  • We must build long-term relationships between colleges and universities and employers and industry. We do a lot of this already, but we got some excellent suggestions through this review of ways of making that even better for the future.
  • We have choices about how to make our research as useful as possible and how to drive innovation and make improvements that are going to benefit economic growth, commercialise new medicines, develop new green transport, for example. That’s an exciting challenge because it can make a difference to the world around us and the way we live our lives. Universities and colleges have a key role in making this happen.

Commenting on the publication of the Phase 1 Report, SFC Chief Executive Karen Watt said:

“We have a fantastic and diverse set of colleges and universities in Scotland. They are real national assets. They provide us with skilled people from all walks of life, research breakthroughs that will solve some of the big health, social and economic challenges of our time, and they are important anchors in our communities. But as the world around us changes, at a time of economic upheaval, and when resources are tight, this review asks how we can secure their continued success and sustainability for learners and for Scotland.

“This first phase review report distils views from over 100 submissions and round-table discussions from all parts of public life. It aims to generate a debate about options for change. There are no easy answers, only difficult choices. But this review shows there is a real commitment to consider those choices based on what represents best value and the best impact for Scotland’s future success. We look forward to exploring the emerging themes in more detail through Phase 2 of our review.”

Shona Struthers 100x100Shona Struthers, Chief Executive of Colleges Scotland, said:

“This is an important review for the college sector, and we welcomed the opportunity to work with the SFC to contribute our views and highlight both the opportunities and challenges that colleges are facing now and in the future, particularly given the pandemic.

“The report sets out the basis for creating a more collaborative and inclusive approach to tertiary education, something that the college sector has been seeking for some time, that puts the learner at the heart of the system and ensures that everyone regardless of their age or background has access to education and training at every stage of life without having to repeat learning or duplicate effort at each step. 

“The report also notes the critical role that colleges will play in Scotland’s recovery, supporting Scotland’s future, getting our citizens back to work, ensuring a focus on both social and economic recovery, and contributing to the success of the changed economy of the Scotland of the future.    Colleges make a fundamental contribution to Scotland’s labour market, helping to meet employers’ needs and ensuring that students have the right skills and training to succeed in the workplace.

“The college sector’s financial difficulties are well documented and this report acknowledges the sustainability challenges that colleges have and the impact of COVID-19 on college budgets including the need to shift swiftly to remote online teaching and tackle digital poverty.  This review provides an opportunity to provide the college sector with greater certainty of funding, more flexibility and streamlined funding in future.

“We look forward to working with the SFC and key stakeholders to take forward phase 2 of the review and developing the key themes further.” 

The SFC review of colleges and universities was commissioned by Scottish Ministers and is being carried out across three phases. The final phase is due to be completed in early summer 2021.

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