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Despite the pandemic, colleges in Scotland have continued to deliver, to stay responsive to changing skills needs, and to keep people in productive learning.

A new report from the Scottish Funding Council shows colleges provided almost 118,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) places in 2020-21, an increase of 1,645 on last year’s figure.

Looking at trends for learning and skills, the figures show that over a quarter of all college activity was in the broad area of health and care services.

Today’s figures also confirm a trend for learners opting for longer courses which lead to higher level qualifications such as HNCs and HNDs. Numbers studying on longer courses increased in 2020-21 whilst there was a drop in demand for short courses requiring under ten hours of study. During the period covered by the report, the impact of COVID-19 on secondary education meant fewer school pupils attended college courses and fewer adults went to evening classes.

Higher and Further Education Minister Jamie Hepburn said:

“These figures clearly show that, despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, our colleges have delivered more full-time equivalent numbers, giving students the opportunity to achieve the recognised qualifications required for a skilled workforce. 

“This ability to deliver courses despite the challenges of COVID-19 highlights the great resilience and flexibility of our college sector.”

Karen Watt, Chief Executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said: 

“Today’s report paints an impressive picture of colleges’ resilience in the face of a global pandemic. 

“By providing more full time places colleges have extended the benefits of tertiary education and skills development for people wanting to progress to a career or further studies. As well as providing life-changing opportunities for individuals, this has a positive impact on communities, the economy and public services.”

“Alongside their teaching activities, colleges played an important part in supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of their students and staff during these extraordinary times.”

As well as challenges created by the pandemic, colleges have also been coping with a demographic reduction in the number of 18-19 year olds which has decreased by almost 16 per cent in the last ten years. Despite this, and an increase in young Scots being accepted for university places, more than one in five 18-19 year olds was a full-time college student in 2020-21.