Scotland's colleges responded well to Covid-19, but changes are needed to ensure they are financially sustainable in the long term and more students graduate.
Covid-19 funding contributed to a better-than-expected end of year operating position for the sector in 2020-21. However, colleges’ finances are forecast to deteriorate.
Colleges responded well to the shift to online learning during the pandemic. But the proportion of students successfully completing their course has fallen. On average, socially disadvantaged and vulnerable students are less likely to successfully complete their course than their peers.
Wide-ranging recommendations to improve the college sector were made by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) in 2021, including multi-year funding assumptions. They were broadly accepted by the Scottish Government, which is due to set out the future role of the college and university sectors in 2023. In the meantime, it is important that the government and the SFC support colleges to plan for change.
Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said:
The challenging financial situation facing colleges will make it difficult for the sector to balance the delivery of high-quality courses and Scottish Government priorities.
Changes are needed to ensure the sector is financially sustainable in the long-term and more students successfully complete their courses.
Colleges need support to plan for those changes, and the Scottish Government needs to work with the SFC to put its plan into action at the earliest opportunity.