Scottish colleges and universities are set to lose £46 million in pledged funding

The Scottish government has reversed its decision to provide millions of pounds in funding to colleges and universities.

The initially allocated £46 million for the Scottish college and university sector has been reclassified as an “essential saving,” indicating a cancellation of the funds.

MSPs had approved the allocation of the funds, which are distributed by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC).

Members of Colleges Scotland expressed deep dismay, while Universities Scotland conveyed their extreme disappointment regarding the decision.

Former finance minister John Swinney had pledged the allocated funds in last December’s budget. The college sector was set to receive £26 million, while the university sector was due to receive £20 million.

They were informed that the decision to reverse the funding was made in order to prioritize other Scottish government initiatives.

In a letter addressed to the education committee, Graeme Dey, the Minister for Higher and Further Education, stated, “The cabinet secretary for education and skills, Jenny Gilruth, has written to the SFC today, regretfully informing them that the additional £46 million has been identified as a required cost-saving for the financial year 2023-24.”

“As outlined by the former cabinet secretary during their explanation to the committee on February 22nd, we have encountered difficult choices in addressing emerging needs within the education and skills portfolio subsequent to the announcement of the 2023-24 budget.”

The decision coincides with recent pay settlements for teachers and health workers. Additionally, Scotland’s college lecturers have initiated work-to-rule action, refusing to enter student marks into recording systems, due to a pay dispute. Last month, members of the EIS-Further Education Lecturers’ Association (EIS-Fela) voted in favor of this course of action.

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Expressing their disappointment and dismay, Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, commented, “The Scottish government’s reversal on this matter is deeply disheartening for colleges.”

The decision to withdraw £1 million from each college is utterly perplexing. Colleges are already facing financial constraints, resulting in course reductions and the scaling back of their offerings. This is not due to a lack of ambition on the part of colleges, nor a lack of demand from students or employers.

Adding to her remarks, she emphasized, “Over the course of the past year, various ministers and cabinet secretaries have consistently reassured both the college sector and the Scottish Parliament that this funding would indeed be allocated in the 2023-24 timeframe.”

“Regrettably, in a discouraging turn of events, the pledged funding has been rescinded in less than five months following the government’s budget announcement.”

Prof Dame Sally Mapstone, as the convener of Universities Scotland, acknowledged that the promised £20 million fell short of the actual requirements, but still viewed it as a positive step.

Expressing her dismay, she remarked, “It is disheartening to learn that higher education is being deprioritized by the Scottish government, despite the fact that the Scottish Parliament had previously approved a Scottish Budget that included a £20 million increase in investment for higher education.”

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