Further education plays crucial role in Scottish recruitment

February 22, 2002

The Scottish Executive's latest figures for the proportion of young Scots going into higher education show another rise in 1999-2000, from 47.2 per cent to 47.6 per cent. But there is no single explanation of why Scotland is doing so well.

Scots have traditionally placed a high value on education and the country's size makes it relatively easy to forge links between schools, colleges and universities. But one factor driving the growth is the large number of students taking courses in further education colleges.

Mike Osborne, professor of lifelong education at Stirling University, said Tory ministers allowed an expansion of higher education in colleges in the early 1990s, after colleges moved from local authority to central control.

Some 28 per cent of higher education is now in colleges, attracting more than half of new Scottish entrants.

Funding pressures may mean students are more inclined to stay at home. Professor Osborne said: "If you want higher education on your doorstep, you're likely to have a further education college close to you."

The Association of Scottish Colleges has pointed out that nearly 37 per cent of higher education students in colleges have no previous qualifications, highlighting the importance of the further education sector in widening access.

Furthermore, about 22 per cent of higher education students in colleges are from the most deprived areas in Scotland. Tom Kelly, chief officer of the Association of Scottish Colleges, said: "The route into higher education via college is not only an established route in Scotland, but also the natural route for many."

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