IT is now 50 years since Glasgow College of Nautical Studies was opened by Lord Mountbatten and this week his great-niece the Princess Royal toured the Riverside campus to launch a year of celebrations. Some of the former students she met at the site were there at the official opening in 1969 and 50 years on, as part of the merged City of Glasgow College, the campus is still doing what it has always done: offering excellent educational opportunities to many thousands of students.

However, in the college sector as a whole there is much less to celebrate. Funding is way down on where it was 10 years ago. There has been a massive drop in student numbers and staff, and the financial support available to the students who are still there has been failing to keep up with demand. Part-time courses have also been slashed, which is particularly regrettable as they are often the only option for students from deprived backgrounds.

On top of all of that, the sector is facing disruption over the pay dispute between management and lecturers. The lecturers’ union is demanding that salaries increase to reflect the rising cost of living while the Government says what the union is demanding is unreasonable. It means the mood is acrimonious and the future uncertain.

What makes it worse is the college sector is so important. Not only does it have a central role to play in meeting Scotland’s skills shortage, colleges provide an essential route into education and work for thousands of Scots from vulnerable or deprived backgrounds. With the attainment gap still a huge problem in Scotland, colleges have a central role to play in reducing it.

However, their capacity to do so will be severely limited as long as the sector is under-funded. The Princess Royal saw some of the excellent facilities available at the City of Glasgow’s Riverside campus, but the flexibility that colleges have shown in dealing with shrinking budgets can only go so far. If the college sector is to recover and go on to thrive in the next 50 years, then it will need a much greater show of support from the Scottish Government.