As a member of the board of management of a Glasgow college I watched the further education service develop into a vital access route to learning for adults and young people, many of them from the most frustrated and deprived parts of our cities ("Russell under fire for 'over-reaction' in college chief row", The Herald, November 16, and Letters, November 16-17).

Yet in the past two years the Scottish Government has imposed asymmetric cuts on post-school education, cuts which have slashed college budgets to protect higher education. I prefer not to speculate whether this is a cynical calculation over which the politically dispossessed will be less likely to cause a political fuss. The fact is that college budgets have been cut more savagely than those of any other part of the public sector in Scotland.

That this scandal has been building up for so long is perhaps a reflection of the climate of opinion that Kirk Ramsay has hinted at. Many of the proposed mergers between colleges hardly make sense but opposition has been strangely muted. Boards have hesitated to risk their colleges' financial position, while senior staff know that applicants for the limited number of posts in the new super-colleges will be appointed by the chairs of Mr Russell's new regional college boards, themselves appointed by the cabinet secretary and, unlike their public-spirited predecessors, holding paid posts.

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One wonders whether Mr Russell's extraordinary reaction to a harmless recording (by a sufferer of tinnitus) of a well-publicised speech is part of a wider strategy to discourage opposition?

Martin Axford,

18 Bonar Crescent,

Bridge of Weir.

Mr Ian Graham, former principal of John Wheatley College, makes some interesting points (Letters, November 16).

The current focus on our colleges only highlights their importance to the Government's wider ambitions for jobs and growth, improving young peoples' life chances, and doing so in a way that is sustainable for the long term.

Against this background, it is important to make clear that this Government has protected places for students and has set in motion reforms in the sector that those within it accept are overdue. In doing so, we are building on its many strengths, but ensuring a sharper focus on the economy by giving learners the skills they need for work.

We are also providing significant capital investment to the college sector, including £300 million for colleges in Glasgow, Inverness and Kilmarnock (funded through the innovative non-profit distributing model) on top of £546m of resource funding this year.

Creating a coherent college sector with a sharper focus on learner outcomes that better delivers for our young people and their communities must now be the priority, and is where this debate should be focused.

Michael Russell MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning,

The Scottish Parliament,


Could Scotland be the only country in Europe where a citizen is condemned for using technology to ease note-taking?

Wouldn't it be fun if the majority of those present with Mr Ramsay at the meeting said they had also been using devices, such as phones, to record? Then we could have a laugh as Michael Russell runs about demanding their resignations. As for Stewart Maxwell, the convener of the education committee and a man who told BBC Scotland he wanted to deal in "facts", I suggest he also uses one of these modern computer things to "google" the words "spy" and "smartpen" and learns about the difference between them. At times I am embarrassed to be Scottish.

Margaret Bell,

59 St Andrews Drive,

Bridge of Weir.