More students miss out on Border College places as cuts begin to bite

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BORDERS College has been unable to keep up with increasing demand for student places because of funding cuts, claims its principal.

Liz McIntyre made the comment as Freedom of Information figures revealed that the number of applicants unable to get a spot on a Borders College course had risen from 251 in 2011 to 370 in 2012. And the number of those unsuccessful because they had applied for subjects which were already full also increased from 53 to 96.

Ms McIntyre insisted there has not been a reduction in student places at the college, despite having to make 22 redundancies in 2010/11 and cutting £750,000 from the 2011/12 budget.

Speaking this week, she said lack of employment in the Borders has seen more people approach the college for further education.

She told us: “For the past three years the gap between the number of people applying for a full-time place at Borders College and the places on offer has been widening.

“As a result of difficult economic conditions more people are applying for a place either because they cannot obtain employment or because they have realised that in order to give themselves the edge in a competitive employment market, they need to have additional skills and qualifications.

“Recent funding constraints mean that the college has not been able to grow full-time places in line with this increasing demand.”

Ms McIntyre said additional cash from Skills Development Scotland (SDS) for employability programmes would provide opportunities for young, out-of-work people.

“It is important that the college continues to work with SDS to ensure that these places meet the needs of young people in our area and provide the right opportunities to people who have not been able to access a full-time place at college,” she added.

South of Scotland MSP Jim Hume laid the blame for the growing number of unsuccessful candidates with the SNP Government, with education and lifelong learning secretary Mike Russell expected to announced further cuts to the Scottish colleges budget later this month.

The Liberal Democrat said: “The SNP have ploughed on with damaging reforms to colleges, despite the knock-on consequences for young people.

“The proposed cut of £34million to college budgets could spell disaster for young people trying to get on in life.

“The SNP have got it badly wrong on further education at a time when they need to be investing in young people, not stifling their chances.”

Having recently met with Ms McIntyre, Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame believes a simplified funding system could help deflate the pressure on Scotland’s colleges.

Currently there are two funding streams, from SDS, which looks to improve the employability of students, and the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), which dishes out cash to the country’s 37 colleges and 19 universities.

The SNP politician said: “I share her (Ms McIntyre) concerns about two funding streams and over-bureaucracy, and have brought all these matters to the attention of the cabinet secretary for education and lifelong learning and he is currently considering these issues.

“Additionally, the operation of the SDS scheme is under review.

“If it is the case that the SDS funding could be better applied, for example, by amalgamating with the SFC funding, then I shall be pressing for this to allow more students to take up the full-time places which I know they want and are available.

“This is especially critical in a time when the government allocation from Westminster has been savagely cut.”

Ms McIntyre told the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party education and culture committee in October last year that she believed the planned cuts for 2013/14 would have a similar affect as previous years.

She told the committee: “The current level of cuts for next year will still have an impact on colleges, on student places and, potentially, on jobs.”