By Shona Struthers, Chief Executive, Colleges Scotland

MANY different sectors and organisations help to build success in Scotland, but the contribution of our colleges is crucial, both for individuals and the country.

Colleges Scotland recently published an independent report commissioned from the Fraser of Allander Institute evaluating the financial contribution of the sector.

Scotland’s colleges will generate additional value worth £20 billion for the Scottish economy over the working lives of college graduates – a £55,000 boost to productivity per graduate.

There is concern about Scotland’s low rate of economic growth, but our country would be significantly poorer and less productive without the work that goes on day and daily in our 26 colleges the length and breadth of the country, providing skills and training for people of all ages.

Quite simply, Scotland’s colleges deliver. We believe that trust in the sector – built up by the hard work of lecturers, support staff and managers – was recognised when the Scottish Government announced that the new Flexible Workforce Development Fund will be delivered by colleges, which have a detailed understanding of the requirements of local employers and regional skills needs.

Colleges make an essential contribution to Scotland’s labour market, helping to ensure that students have the right skills and training to succeed in the workplace. College education contributes to boosting the quality and quantity of employment, with 97 per cent of all learning hours leading to a recognised qualification.

It is also about achieving a fairer society. Just over a third of full-time further education students at college are from the 20 per cent most deprived areas and, according to the Sutton Trust, 90 per cent of the growth in Scottish higher education participation for disadvantaged students since 2006 has been through colleges.

Scotland has big policy ambitions, but they can only be achieved if we have a healthy and vibrant college sector, producing people with skills and qualifications. These include doubling free nursery provision by 2020, closing the educational attainment gap between people from poorer and more affluent backgrounds, maintaining higher youth employment levels than elsewhere in the UK, and having better gender balance in the labour market.

Colleges Scotland is leading the debate on improving and simplifying the learner journey to make it work better for the individual, and achieve savings for the public purse by having a clearer pathway across schools, colleges, universities and employers.

By offering smooth transitions between colleges and universities, a reformed learner journey will continue to produce a skilled workforce whilst bringing benefits to Scotland’s wider economy.

A major milestone was recently passed with agreement in principle on the harmonisation of pay and core conditions of service for college lecturing staff. This means all college lecturers across Scotland receive an average nine per cent pay increase, with salaries of up to £40,000, 62 days holiday, and other terms and conditions of service safeguarded or enhanced.

The major financial commitment by the Scottish Government to national bargaining is greatly appreciated. It is part of providing a national college service in Scotland, with high standards of learning and teaching everywhere.

Progress has been made during negotiations with support staff trade unions, with a pay claim for 2017/18 concluded, a common and unitary package of annual leave agreed and discussions on the selection and introduction of a national job evaluation scheme commenced.

Our sector’s focus must remain on the students, and the good deal for lecturers enables us to progress work around professional standards, including registration of all lecturing staff by April 2019.

We have the opportunity in 2018 to make Scotland’s great college sector even better, which we will achieve by working collegiately together and implementing innovative solutions.