Principal’s fears for students and staff if budget cuts are confirmed

Scottish Borders College Principal Liz McIntyre at today's announcment that they are having to cut some jobs at the college.
Scottish Borders College Principal Liz McIntyre at today's announcment that they are having to cut some jobs at the college.
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THE principal of Borders College has this week warned it is “impossible” to rule out a reduction in student places and further job cuts in the next academic year.

Liz McIntyre was reacting to provisional financial allocations issued this week in a circular by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the national body responsible for supporting Scotland’s 40 further education colleges.

The figures indicate the teaching grant for her college will be cut by 8.4 per cent in 2012/13 to just over £6.2million, although, at the time of going to press, staff were waiting anxiously to see if rumoured relief for colleges would be included in yesterday’s budget announcement by John Swinney, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance.

The indicative cut, along with a trimmed student support allocation of £1.6million, comes on top of a 10 per cent teaching grant reduction imposed last year.

That resulted in 22 redundancies, 11 of which were compulsory, at the 6,000-student college which has its main campus at Netherdale in Galashiels and five satellite facilities in the region.

Such a funding reduction would be in line with the 20 per cent real term cut in the financial settlement for further education colleges explicit in last year’s three-year spending review, announced by Mr Swinney.

Ms McIntyre said: “The information we have received so far would indicate Borders College could face a significant cut of 8.4 per cent to our teaching grant.

“This, on top of a cut of around 10 per cent last year, presents us with a significant challenge. At the moment, however, we remain hopeful that the SFC and the Scottish Government will recognise the need for Borders College to meet increased demand for places across the broad range of courses needed to serve our distinctive rural area.

“We have been advised that we will be contacted by the SFC in the near future to discuss additional funds.

“It is impossible at this stage to rule out a reduction in student places or learner choice and a corresponding threat to jobs.

“Nonetheless, until the full extent of our funding for next year is known, we will continue to plan as many student places as possible and we will be working extremely hard to minimise any job losses.”

The SFC circular confirmed that the cabinet secretary has asked it to ensure no colleges should see a fall in their teaching grant below 8.5 per cent.

“We have reduced every college’s base teaching and fee waiver grant by 8.4 per cent,” said the SFC. “The cabinet secretary has asked us to ensure the college sector accommodates 96 per cent of the current 2011/12 baseline target, with the remaining four per cent of college places secured through the introduction of a scheme between Skills Development Scotland and colleges.”

The circular accepts that Borders College serves one of six Scottish regions where there “could be the most significant gap between need and current provision” and alludes to the “additional money” mentioned by Ms McIntyre - £8 million across the country which has been brought forward from the last two years of the spending review period. “In the future, we intend to allocate [student] places on the basis of need.”

Ms McIntyre is thus preparing to put up a staunch case for adequate funding.

In October last year, she gave a portentious and pessimistic assessment of what funding cuts would mean to the college to the Scottish Government’s cross-party education and culture committee.

“As a rural college serving a relatively small population spread over a wide geographic area, Borders College has always had some quite difficult financial challenges,” said Ms McIntyre.

“It is more difficult to achieve economies of scale. We have to maintain a broad curriculum to ensure the local community is well served, so we have already had to operate quite an efficient model just to make the figures stack up.

The principal warned: “We will have to reduce places, lose staff and turn away even more students than we already turn away.

“We have not been able to access additional funding over the past couple of a years and we are not eligible for European social fund money for additional places ... we have been trying to deal with diminishing resources for quite some time and we will not be able to sustain that.

“We are particularly concerned that the people who are furthest from education will suffer the most if there is a reduction in the number of places. This is a concern, particularly in the Borders where there is not really anywhere else for people to go.

“In the short term and in the current climate in which we are struggling for economic recovery and the impact of youth unemployment, we will not be able to meet demand for students and the budget challenges without having a direct impact on learners, however much reform might bring savings and efficiencies in the future.”