Scotland’s funding and regulatory bodies must now work together and adopt a ‘whole-system approach’ in order to avoid a future skills deficit, writes Paul Little, Principal, City of Glasgow College


THE scale of fallout we are experiencing from such a profound global health crisis is only beginning to become apparent. The economic and social consequences of the coronavirus pandemic are stark and it will require a monumental collective effort to rebuild, with opportunity to redesign.  

We don’t yet know or fully understand how this crisis will change the way we live, the way we work and how we interact in the long term. 
What is clear is that a jobs and skills crisis is looming in Scotland.

As I write this, 15 per cent of the workforce remains on furlough, the economy contracted nearly 20 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, and youth unemployment is standing at 14.5 per cent. The scale of the economic shock means existing models of funding, governance, collaboration and delivery will need a step change to tackle challenges and embrace new opportunities.  

Colleges across Scotland are remarkably flexible tertiary education and training institutions so are uniquely placed to rapidly implement measures to reskill, upskill, and re-energise individuals – and, through them, their communities.  

A holistic, coherent, and tertiary response is now more essential than ever if Scotland is to make the necessary step change in delivering its national priorities. It also demands agility, innovation and boldness from funding and regulatory bodies, themselves acting in a much more collaborative fashion, and adopting a whole-system approach. 

All this is essential to maximise the capacity of the skills and learning system, and allow it to respond quickly to employer requirements.
As we recover and restart our economy, City of Glasgow College is already playing a pivotal role in recovery including leading the response in some of those sectors most impacted by the pandemic – retail, hospitality, tourism, construction, manufacturing, and creative industries.

Colleges can and should lead the response in each of these sectors. 
Throughout lockdown our college continued to train Scotland’s workforce remotely, delivering over 290 courses, and training almost over 2300 employees. City has now developed over 70 programmes that can be undertaken remotely with hundreds of participants at any one time.

More broadly, since our pathfinder merger in 2010, we are proud to have supported over 100,000 graduates in acquiring recognised qualifications, and to have engaged with employers and education partners to build a curriculum of over 2,000 courses across four faculties.

As we mark our 10-year anniversary, City of Glasgow College is positioned as a top-performing college across the UK for technological and vocational provision, building a network of 1,500 industry partners. 

And in doing all this, the college improves Glasgow’s wellbeing, playing a vital role in supporting people from all backgrounds to fulfil their economic potential. A forthcoming study by the Fraser of Allander Institute reports that as a result of the eight graduate cohorts covering the period 2011/12 to 2018/19, the Scottish economy will be better off by over £6 billion in present value terms over the long term – or £56,000 per graduate.

The Cumberford-Little Report, commissioned by the Scottish Government, co-authored by myself and Audrey Cumberford, principal of Edinburgh College, and published this February, anticipated many of the challenges Covid-19 has inflicted on a new “Covid-normal” Scotland. It goes on to set out a clear blueprint for the future of our colleges, placing them as civic anchors for economic and social renewal. It concludes they are uniquely placed to enable and encourage social mobility, identify skills need, and supply a talented labour pipeline.  

Colleges will do that through new, symbiotic relationships with business that boost productivity; deliver transformative technological and professional education for up-skilling and re-skilling; and develop capacity and resilience in communities, tackling disadvantage and maximising opportunity.  

As City of Glasgow celebrates its 10-year anniversary this month, the Cumberford-Little report outlines a clear vision for the next 10 years – one that clarifies purpose, focuses relentlessly on – and incentivises – removing barriers and reforming funding, performance, and quality models advantage of the still-untapped potential of our regional college network. 

Co-authoring the report left me as proud as ever of our sector and the incredible role it plays in development and shaping people’s lives, as well as Scotland’s future. 

The fourth industrial revolution was well under way at the start of this tumultuous year, and technology continues to accelerate at pace, transforming how we learn and how we do business and communicate. 

As our sector contributes to the national and civic resilience effort in response to the pandemic, it is more important than ever that colleges continue their role as anchors in their communities, staying connected albeit socially distant.
Covid-19 is undoubtedly creating unparalleled social and economic challenges but it is also reinforcing the need to get on and deliver the report’s recommendations – without delay.


Tributes for advocate of ‘creativity in the classroom’

HEARTFELT tributes have been paid to the late Sir Ken Robinson,  a visionary educationalist who encouraged creativity among youngsters in UK classrooms and performed one of the most popular TED Talks of all time.

Mr Robinson, who was born in Liverpool and passed away last month aged 70, spent much of his life campaigning for the reform of the UK education system, which he felt stifled creativity in youngsters.


Glasgow-based strategic brand agency MadeBrave were one of the first organisations to pay tribute. Head of Strategy, Mark Cullen, said: “With his famous TED Talk ‘Do schools kill creativity?’, Ken suggested that our approach to education was all wrong. 

“The whole way we teach children is too rigid, too uniform and lacking in the limitless power of creativity to unlock potential. It was funny, it was warm and it was brilliant. 

“And nearly 14 years later it is still the most-watched TED talk of all time. No other even talk comes close.

“At a time like this when the rigid structures of education are being questioned more than ever, there must be a role for leaders in creativity to step up and offer an alternative.

“For us to say to children, ‘you don’t always need straight As or a 1st class degree to be successful – or even just to be happy’. In fact, most of us here at MadeBrave have anything but a traditional career path.

“This is because it’s the children who do keep that spark that Ken spoke of that will turn into the best creatives of tomorrow. Take one look at TikTok today and you’ll see the wealth of potential.”

Despite being respected and revered by educationalists the world over, Mr Robinson had been largely ignored by politicians of both main UK parties as he insisted that the policy of successive governments, that literacy and numeracy should predominate, was a false priority. 

At his famous TED Talk, he told the audience: “I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new concept of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. 

“Our education system has mined our minds in the way we strip-mined the earth for a particular commodity. We have to rethink the fundamental principles in which we are educating our children.”

Although this view was much more appealing to the education profession than it was to government ministers, his views eventually won him a role as a senior adviser to the J Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles.

He is fondly remembered by former Northern Irish Permanent Secretary for Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) Dr Aideen McGinley and former Arts Adviser for the Western Education and Library Board (WELB) Noelle McAlinden.

“I was privileged to have first met Ken Robinson in 1999 while I was Arts Adviser for WELB attending a conference at Stramillis College facilitated by Hamish Fyffe”, McAlinden said.

“I wasn’t the only member of the audience of arts educators, creatives, artists and arts organisations who were literally blown away by not just the content but his delivery of his presentation ‘All Our Futures’, we all were. She continued: “All Our Futures was not just the proposal to reform education but transform it. 

“The importance of an Education system that unlocked the potential of both students and teachers, promoting creativity at the heart of the curriculum, collaborative ways of learning and teaching and the recognition that schools could not exist in isolation but rather in partnership with a range of agencies. A report I shared with Dr. Aideen McGinley, recently appointed Permanent Secretary for Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL).”

“I was hooked,” added McGinley, noting that it is one of the few government reports that inspires and resonates to this day. Sir Ken Robinson was a true visionary with the ability to cut through complexity and get to the root of things and make it all so comprehensible, achievable and most important of all desirable.”