Audit Scotland’s accountancy speak can’t hide the increasing strain in further education.
Their latest report states that colleges are “operating within and increasingly tight financial environment”. The sector wide position is challenging but viewing it from that perspective is also masking the sever challenges in some colleges. Twelve colleges are predicting a recurring financial deficits by 2022-23.
While the government can claim to have given colleges some extra cash, this was funding to cover the additional costs of harmonising pay and conditions across the sector following the recent reorganisation of the sector. This does not cover cost of living increases for staff or the extra employer pension costs.
There are also shortages in the capital budget compared to the estimated maintenance costs and the proportion of non-government income generated by colleges is reducing.
The sector continues to change with increasing student numbers. Colleges are changing focus with more learning being provided for over 25s and less for those aged 16-24. The proportion of learning delivered to those from deprived areas has begun to fall after several years on increasing.
While there is considerable variation across colleges for attainment and retention and those going on to so-called positive destinations. Average rates have been relatively static. The attainment rate of 66% for full-time students is still well below the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) target of 75% by 20-21. There is still an attainment gap for students from the most deprived backgrounds and those with disabilities or who are care experienced.
Audit Scotland is calling on colleges to “underlying financial position with the SFC prior to publishing their accounts and improve data collection round student satisfaction as well as publishing that data. They also call on the government to agree a medium term capital investment strategy for ten sector and review college targets in the light of current trends.
Most importantly they call on government and colleges to work together to deliver performance improvement and therefore meet agreed targets.