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Figures out today from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) show how the twin effects of the pandemic and the emerging cost of living crisis had a detrimental effect on people studying at college.

Throughout 2021-22 colleges continued to contend with measures introduced to control COVID-19 including restrictions to halt the spread of the Omicron variant. At the same time, personal finances were starting to feel the strain of the cost of living crisis, making the choice of paid work an attractive option for those already on a course as well as for those considering enrolling.

Both these factors are illustrated in the latest College Performance Indicators report. Figures collected by SFC show a clear increase in the percentage of students leaving during their course. For full-time further education courses this rose by around four percentage points, and full time higher education courses experienced a six percentage point rise.

Withdrawals were particularly noticeable in subjects relating to hospitality and tourism where there was high demand in the workplace. Subjects more dependent on face to face teaching such as care, construction and hairdressing similarly experienced higher than normal withdrawal rates.

Today’s report also provides an update on students unable to complete their studies due to the pandemic. Previous figures have shown that by 2021-22 over 37% of the 12,500 who deferred in the first year of the pandemic had returned to their studies. The latest figures show a further 2,392 students in 2021-22 chose to defer their studies until the following year.

The report confirms that work continues in colleges to reconnect with students who deferred in 2020-21 and did not return, as well as with those who deferred in 2021-22. It is thought, however, that many may have entered employment due to the more buoyant labour market.

Responding to the findings, SFC’s Director of Policy, Insight and Statistics, Martin Boyle, said:

“These figures clearly show the continuing effects of the pandemic on colleges and their students. In 2021-22, we also see these being compounded by the start of the cost of living crisis.

“Once again colleges were coping with extremely challenging circumstances and showed exceptional determination to support their learners. Their continuing efforts to re-engage students who deferred their studies, including measures to alleviate the effects of the pandemic on mental health and poverty, are just one example of this.

“The Scottish Funding Council was engaged with the sector throughout and continues to work in partnership with colleges and will begin to support them to identify where improvements can be made.”

College Performance Indicators 2021-22 is now available along with an Excel PI Tool giving an overview of individual college data.