Association of Scottish Colleges supplementary - here

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Follow-up Submission to the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee of the Scottish Parliament. BARRIERS TO LIFELONG LEARNING 1. Representatives of the Association of Scottish Colleges (ASC) gave oral evidence to the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee of the Scottish Parliament on 14 November (26th meeting). ASC were asked to provide further evidence on the barriers, in particular funding barriers, which obstruct lifelong learning in Scotland.

Background 2. FE colleges have unique experience of working with a wide range of providers and publicly funded schemes of education and training. Many FE students have returned to study after a long gap since leaving school. Others are seeking a new direction in their career or lifelong learning and may be following “zigzag” routes of learning. At present there is a clear road ahead only for those proceeding direct from school to an Honours degree course at university. Other learners find discontinuities between the different components of their education and training, or artificial restrictions on continuing a particular direction of study. The anomaly of forcing so many people into a slow lane with congested exits and re-entry points, while others enjoy rapid progress to their destination in the “fast lane”, has to be reduced over the next decade. This is not only for reasons of social justice but also practically to meeting the needs of the economy. This is because 80% of those who will be of working age in 10 years time are already of that age. Clear routes to retraining are therefore essential.


Funding Barriers 4. Entitlement to public funding for education and training is far from straightforward for anyone not in the full-time “fast-lane”. For those whose first choice is an academic or vocational course in a further education college or sub-degree (higher education) qualification in a higher education institution, the main barriers are: • • The lower you start, the less you get (specifically, bursary support for a full-time FE course in college is normally limited to 1 year of study and no previous support in the past 4 years) Parents and families pay more of the same income to support a student on full-time FE bursary than is required for a student eligible for HE support (though the Scottish Executive is committed to reviewing the alignment of contribution scales and means tests)

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Maintenance support for full-time HE students is generally only available as student loan (with grant support available only for specific categories of student such as mature students and young students from disadvantaged families) Emergency and hardship funds are subject to cash rationing (allocations to individual institutions) which mean that those later in the queue may not get support even if their needs are greater than those who applied and were supported earlier.


Apart from these barriers which deter participation – particularly of low incomes or disadvantage – there are also significant obstacles to progression. Studies by Glasgow Caledonian University confirm that many late returners and mature students embark on studies with only very limited initial ambitions – only with success at the initial stage does the possibility of going onward to a degree qualification become a personal ambition and an educational reality. Obstacles in the way of this progress include: • • Entry criteria (UCAS points) which favour school leavers against all other applicants SAAS/SLC rules of continuous study which prevent someone graduating with an Ordinary degree (or completing HNC/D) from seeking to complete an Honours degree elsewhere or later in their life (this is a particular problem for UHIMI whose students currently can graduate only at Ordinary degree level) The rules in relation to graduate endowment liability, which mean that unless the HN diplomate gains direct entry to the third year of a degree programme, he/she will be liable to pay the graduate endowment at the end of the degree Absence of financial support for “bridging” courses which enable, say, students completing HN courses in college to enter a university degree course above Year One. (Where such courses are available, they are very successful in easing the transition from college to university).



Training Schemes 6. There are increasing concerns that some individuals find themselves caught in the “revolving door” of training schemes which offer only training in basic skills for low-paid and insecure jobs. Individuals complete a course of training and, initially, “a job, any job” but quickly find that sustained employment is not possible. For many individuals, deficiencies of education need to be addressed if sustained employment and higher-level training are to become accessible. Obstacles to the “escalator” of lifelong learning include: • existing New Deal rules, which do not properly recognise that going on to a further course of full-time education, after completing the New Deal Full-Time Education and Training Option, is often a positive outcome

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• •

Insistence that SVQs – rather than broader HN or NQ courses – should be the only ones supported by publicly-funded training The absence of a “right to study” while out of work (though it is available for young people in work)

Entitlement to Lifelong Learning 7. ASC’s view is that the “basic” entitlement to publicly supported education or training should be 6 years full-time equivalent (including the last 2 years of school and 4 years to honours degree). At present those in the fast lane from school to university will take the whole of this entitlement by age 22. Many of those who leave school and go direct into work – or on to benefits – will find that their maximum entitlement may be as little as two years full-time equivalent education and training. This “locks” those individuals into the slow lane, even if, later on, they find the motivation and self-confidence to embark on demanding courses of lifelong learning. It is wrong in principle that funding for education and training favours taking the most able a short distance early in adulthood rather than taking the less able a longer distance over a longer period of their lives. Much of public funding now seeks “measurable outputs” rather than value-added to individuals or society. SFEFC is preoccupied with measuring the relative cost of teaching for standard periods of activity. This is fine for average or better than average students for whom the standard allotment of teaching time is sufficient. For those with deficiencies – for example in literacy or numeracy – more support and teaching may be required. The scope for targeting individual needs is substantially reduced as funding concentrates more and more on average costs and standard outputs. Lifelong learning is bedevilled by the plethora of initiatives which do not complement or support one another. Although it is very welcome that additional funds have been allocated for support of students who are disadvantaged or in financial need, the excessive sub-division of these funds prevents the best deployment of what is available in total. Colleges need to be able to adjust priorities according to student needs. Discretionary and hardship funds need to be combined into a single fund which the college can then deploy in response to needs and urgency within broad criteria and priorities. The recent guidance letter issued by the Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, Wendy Alexander, to SFEFC on 17 December, gives a commitment – which ASC has sought – to reducing unnecessary sub-division of sources of discretionary support for students.




The New Direction 11. ASC believes that many of these difficulties have arisen from the development of too many schemes with only an inward-looking frame

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of reference, rather than a joined-up or strategic approach. To achieve greater coherence and fairness, a different approach is essential. 12. One element is to open up educational pathways on the basis of a common currency of credits and levels of attainment. This aspect is being taken forward in the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework. But it will be long and difficult work to make sure that SCQF opens up pathways, progression and opportunities to the extent that it should. The other key element in a more joined up approach is the idea of a Lifetime Learning Account. This should provide a frame of reference for new developments and initiatives in public funding for education and training in Scotland. By focussing more on the previous record, intended destination, and future entitlement of individuals, it should be possible to make sure that unintended and unnecessary barriers are removed and avoided in future. The basic outline of ASC’s idea for a Lifetime Learning Account is given in paragraphs 2.16, 2.17 and 5.21 of the main submission of evidence of November 2001.



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