By Dr Waiyin Hatton

THE Scottish Government has set itself some incredibly demanding goals in the most challenging economic environment of recent times.

It has set out three very clear priorities to deliver economic transformation, tackle the climate emergency and to end child poverty.

And on Tuesday last week, Kate Forbes, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy laid out her first multi-year resource spending review which will fund those ambitions.

While Ms Forbes and her Cabinet colleagues have emphasised that education, improving people’s skills and retraining are a crucial part of their plans, to get from here and a set of ambitions to there with ambitions realised, the work that colleges do across the country will be more needed than ever.

With the funding cuts about to come to the college sector, a loss of £51.9 million in the coming academic year which will impact staffing and provision, it is time for fresh thinking about how colleges can come into their own so that Scotland’s recovery can move at the required pace.

College students receive just £4,321 of funding per head compared with £5,913 for their university counterparts and £8,278 for secondary pupils, and at the same time take in a higher proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. That resourcing inequality should be tackled as we move into the skills-led recovery so that students have the resources they need to gain all the benefits of their time at college.

Secondly, given that the sector offers outstanding value for money for the public purse, looking across Government for more opportunities to deliver national ambitions will be a key part of the discussion for the future. The flat-cash position outlined by Ms Forbes will see investment reducing for the tertiary sector in real terms because of the impact of inflation on the £1.5 billion earmarked for each year up until 2027.

And the partnerships which colleges already deliver can be amplified if the system around our funding structure can flex. Currently colleges deliver a set amount of education and training to students even while the resource coming to them diminishes, a sum which is impossible to square without flexibility and joint reform with the Scottish Funding Council. This discussion is well underway.

Colleges provide the skills scaffolding which secures our industries which in turn provide the foundation on which the Scottish economy is built. Sectors such as hospitality, construction, digital and emerging "green" industries are recording shortfalls of hundreds of thousands of workers with the competencies required for the coming decade, so it is essential that targeted and sustainable funding reaches colleges where it can be best used to fill those gaps.

Clearly, the Scottish Government, like the rest of the UK, faces a massive cash crisis. That’s why it’s so important every pound spent is spent in the most effective way.

Colleges have demonstrated their ability to deliver the fit-for-purpose skills the nation needs and to do it in a way where every penny makes a difference, with 95 per cent of graduates going on to meaningful employment or higher education.

Investment in the future of colleges is an investment in Scotland’s people and its future. When Colleges thrive, Scotland thrives.

Dr Waiyin Hatton is Chair, Colleges Scotland