BLOG: Position on College Funding

There’s been a lot of press coverage recently for NUS Scotland’s “Fund Scotland’s Future” campaign on the issue of college funding. As an organisation, the NUS does a lot of excellent advocacy for students the length and breadth of the country, attempting to secure the best possible deal for our young people. Their steadfast advocacy for an education system free of up-front or back-end fees was just one campaign I was privileged enough to support and to continue to support. However, I’m afraid that I cannot support their most recent campaign around college funding, and I wanted to state my reasons for this publicly.

Scotland’s budget is under extreme pressure. As well as the overall budget for Scotland being shrunk by more than 11 per cent between 2010-11 and 2014-15, the UK Government is cutting its own Further Education budget by £1.1bn over the same period, which affects the Barnett consequentials for Scotland.

In the face of these unavoidable cuts, the Scottish Government is doing what it can to invest in, and help, Scotland’s further education sector. The extra £11.4m allocated to student support in last year’s budget, as well as the Scottish Government funding for over 116,000 full time equivalent (FTE) students in 2013/14, will help colleges preserve wide access at a time of significant challenge.

In particular, due to my experiences as part of the University of the Highlands and Islands board, I strongly support the reforms being made in college regionalisation. The process of regionalisation will help to target resources where they are most needed, breaking down institutional silos and improving the learning experience for students. While support for this process is not universal in the sector, it has been welcomed by many principals and will undoubtedly lead to long-term benefits for students and colleges alike.

Although it is disappointing that more money cannot be found for colleges at this time, I fully believe that the money that has been invested in future years will help to shield the further education sector from the cuts being imposed by UK Government decisions. I’m also wary that, due to the restraints on the Scottish Parliament’s financial powers and the severe cuts being made to its budget, extra money for further education would result in cuts elsewhere, reflecting the incredibly difficult decisions that must be made by the Scottish Government in maximising the impact of the money available within these constraints. Reversing a £34.6 million cut in colleges would just mean £34.6 million worth of cuts elsewhere, a Sophie’s Choice that none of the other parties have proposed a solution to. All that we can do with the current powers available to Scotland are re-arrange the deckchairs on the Coalition’s Titanic.

Having said all of that, I’m still very open to meeting with students and student leaders from across the sector to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing our young people. It’s vital that the energy and engagement these issues develop in our young people is harnessed and encouraged, and that no citizen is ever made to feel disconnected or discouraged from taking part in the political process.

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Speech: Employability Debate, 8th January 2013

My first opportunity to speak in the Chamber in 2013 was in a Finance Committee debate on employability. I’ve placed the speech below for those interested.

Although I am a member of the Finance
Committee now, I was not a member when it
heard evidence on employability. However, as
other members have attested to, employability ties
in with many other issues across our
constituencies—not the least of which is multiple
deprivation.
Some people may think that areas of multiple
deprivation are located only in urban areas and
that regions such as the Highlands and Islands are
somewhat immune from its worst effects. That
could not be further from the truth. As the
Government’s Scottish index of multiple
deprivation shows, Caithness, Ross-shire,
Inverness, the Western Isles, Argyll and Bute and
Orkney—to name but a few—all contain data
zones that have been identified as being among
the most deprived parts of Scotland. That
becomes more alarming when we consider that
the data zones in rural Scotland often cover very
large areas that perhaps mask even more acute
problems in certain towns and villages. Although
the Government has produced its own SIMD data
map, which is useful for examining the issue,
Holyrood magazine recently highlighted a Google
map that had been overlaid with the SIMD data
and which provides an easier snapshot of
deprivation. I cannot recommend it highly enough
to colleagues.
A key message that came out of the evidence
sessions, and for which I have much sympathy, is
that it is important to place employability in the
wider context. As others have emphasised in
today’s debate, employability is not about getting
people into just any job, but is about finding the
right job for the right person and helping to make it
as easy as possible for long-term benefits to be
accrued by, and confidence to be instilled in,
people who may have been looking for a job for
some time. In my opinion, that must mean a strong
focus on the small and medium-sized enterprise
sector. In my experience—both as an employee of
small businesses and as an employer—the trust,
responsibility and camaraderie that are gained
through working for a small business can be worth
their weight in gold to employees.
I believe that Highlands and Islands Enterprise
was right to point to its work with Nigg Skills
Academy and the Social Enterprise Academy in
helping to establish learning and employment
opportunities in the Highlands and Islands, as well
as to its work on supporting the region’s small
businesses that hope to grow. Employment can
take on many different guises—it is not always the
direct Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 route—and it is
vital that we support those from every possible
angle.
However, I acknowledge the issues that have
been raised by the Federation of Small
Businesses, whose evidence pointed out that
small businesses often recruit on an informal or
personal basis rather than as part of any national
scheme. In addition, many employers in my region
employ seasonally, which adds another layer of
complexity to the debate. The FSB has also
recently provided further evidence on the barriers
that small businesses in the Highlands and Islands
face. It is an extraordinarily good read that
highlights some of the problems that we face in
overcoming such barriers.
In conclusion, I thank every organisation that
gave evidence on employability to the committee
last year, and I thank the then members of the
committee for their work. It is vital that Parliament
continue to examine issues that affect
communities across the country where, through
our actions and attention, we can bring about the
necessary change.
I will add a final comment on Hanzala Malik’s
criticism of the Government for challenging the
colleges. We cannot have change without change.
From evidence that I have received, I can say that
young people have been let down by those selfsame colleges, so we have to investigate that and
make change happen. That is part of what we need to achieve here; I hope that we do it.

Motion: Ainslie Henderson, International Animation Award Winner

Motion S4M-05244: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 18/12/2012

Ainslie Henderson, International Animation Award Winner
That the Parliament congratulates Ainslie Henderson of the Edinburgh College of Art on being named winner in the animation category at the 2012 Adobe Design Achievement Awards; understands that Ainslie’s work, I Am Tom Moody, beat nearly 5,000 entrants from 70 countries; further understands that Ainslie enlisted the vocal help of the actor, Mackenzie Crook, for his project; considers that Ainslie’s victory, given the number of entrants, demonstrates the creative talent studying at Scotland’s colleges and universities; believes that this international recognition further demonstrates the opportunities available to those who pursue an interest in the arts, and encourages young people with creative talent to use it in whatever way they can.