Perception of colleges as poor relations of universities is “wrong and damaging”
Reform Scotland, the independent, non-party think-tank, has issued its latest report, “A New Deal for Scotland’s Colleges”, with striking new recommendations that would boost the colleges sector and help it secure further economic and social benefits for Scotland.
The key conclusions are:
- Colleges are vital to Scotland’s social and economic development – they are wrongly perceived as a lesser alternative to university. That perception is damaging and must be changed. College is a different choice, not a lesser choice.
- Scotland’s further education sector is too centralised, and current reforms will do nothing to reverse this.
- Legislation is required to remove colleges’ status as public bodies and enshrine them as fully independent charities.
- Young people between 16 and 19 should receive an annual entitlement (equal to the average cost of educating a child in their local authority area), which they would be free to use to access education at any college or school in Scotland.
- Making decisions which place greater emphasis on universities to the detriment of colleges could, unintentionally, harm those facing greatest disadvantage – the very people the Scottish government is trying to help.
Commenting on the release of the report, Reform Scotland’s Director Geoff Mawdsley said:
“The further education sector is already too centralised, and colleges have to rely on a specific government exemption to be considered as charities, even though they are really public bodies. For them to flourish, they must be made truly independent using primary legislation, a change that will encourage diversity and meet public need more effectively.
“That diversity will be further boosted if young people are given an annual entitlement that they can take to any school or college to secure the very best education for them. Power will then be in the hands of the service user and the sector will become even more dynamic as a result. A one size fits all approach to further education will simply not do – we are a diverse nation and need a diverse further education sector.
“It is simply impossible to explain why, in Scotland, universities deserve independence and autonomy, but somehow colleges do not. This difference only accentuates the impression that government is content to have colleges deemed to be less important than universities.
“That perception is wrong and damaging.
“Going to college is a different choice, not a lesser choice.”
Reform Scotland believes that improving access to further and higher education for students from more deprived backgrounds cannot be done without first seeking to improve what happens in school. The think tank carried out research looking at the leaver destinations for every secondary school in Scotland and compared it with the free school meals figures.
The research found that pupils from schools in more disadvantaged areas are more likely to go on to further education than higher education. Reform Scotland argues that this is not something that should be necessarily viewed as a bad thing, since the positive impact that colleges have in more disadvantaged areas should be welcomed and encouraged.
Geoff Mawdsley continued:
“Although the government’s policy of increasing the university participation of people from disadvantaged backgrounds is well-intentioned, there is a danger of unintended consequences. Our research indicates that school leavers from the most deprived areas of Scotland are far more likely to go to college than university to continue their education whether academically, as a route to moving on to university, or vocationally.
“Therefore, there is a danger that placing too great an emphasis on university could reinforce the suggestion that college is a lesser choice and diminish the standing of FE vis-a-vis HE.
“Furthermore, making decisions which place greater emphasis on universities to the detriment of colleges could, unintentionally, harm the very people the Scottish government is trying to help.”