Jackie Galbraith

Destination College – first choice for many, second chance for some, but not second best!

Yesterday (27 February), the Scottish Government published the latest destinations of school leavers in Scotland.

Today, journalists, politicians and others are trying to make sense of these figures – and, in some cases, not doing a very good job!

A BBC article reported that the “figures showed that the percentage signing up for university last year was 40.7%” and that “26.8% opted for a college course”.

That’s not the case.

The facts are that 40.7% of school leavers moved onto HE (higher education) courses and 26.8% moved onto FE (further education) courses. At least a quarter of those choosing to study HE qualifications do so at college, so a more realistic figure for school leavers going straight to university is around 30%. And, over 37% move onto college to study either FE or HE qualifications.

HE courses include HNCs (Higher National Certificates) and HNDs (Higher National Diplomas). Much of the increase in school leavers opting for HE study is down to more of them choosing HNC/Ds at college, sometimes with a view to progressing onto a degree at a later stage.

FACT – Each year, more school leavers go to college than university. College is the top destination for school leavers, whether they opt for FE or HE courses!

FACT – 41% of full-time Scottish entrants to higher education in 2015-16 were to college courses.

FACT – Colleges play a crucial role in providing access to HE for many people who otherwise would never consider it. In 2015-16, 14.8% of full-time first degree students lived in the most deprived 20% areas in Scotland. In the same year, 27.7% of full-time HE students at college were from these areas.

For most young people who start college straight from school, we are their first choice.

In the Ayrshire region, compared with the rest of Scotland, an even greater proportion of school leavers go straight to college than university to study further or higher education qualifications.

For other students, college is a second chance.

People who maybe left school and spent a few years in insecure, low-paid jobs or unemployed before deciding to do something more positive with their lives. People with significant life or work experience who have decided to pursue a new or different career. People who didn’t have the chance to pursue education after school.

First choice or second chance, colleges are not second best. We strive to ensure that all of our students have a first class experience.

That’s what I’ve seen in the four years I’ve been at Ayrshire College. Young, and not so young, lives transformed by the power of learning that prepares them for life, work or further education (including at university).

And, that’s why I get so exorcised when I see the contribution of colleges to building young people’s future being downplayed, albeit unintentionally, by misinterpretation of the facts.

My plea is simple … please report these statistics properly and help people understand how colleges help school leavers, and those who left school a while ago, to achieve their ambitions, whatever they may be.

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