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SFC Chief Executive, Karen Watt, describes the Regional Pathfinders and SFC’s role in developing a revised approach to skills alignment.

Scotland has one of the most highly educated populations in Europe, benefiting from world-class colleges and universities and a vibrant education and skills system. Access to tertiary education and learning, reskilling and upskilling throughout life is not only central to improving people’s living standards, but also has extensive benefits for society, including spurring inclusive economic growth and reducing inequality.

In light of recent and emerging challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate emergency, the cost-of-living crisis and an ever-changing labour market, there is no doubt that a pipeline of skilled people at all levels will continue to be critical. As will the pursuit of a sustainable, wellbeing-focused recovery.

As the national, strategic body for tertiary education and research, we know that colleges and universities are adept at preparing learners for the skills and knowledge they need to thrive, both now and in the future. In addition to making important national and international contributions, they play a crucial role in developing skilled people for sectors across their regions. As different regions face distinct priorities and opportunities, we are exploring closer local working between universities and colleges on skills planning that responds to local needs.

Regional Tertiary Provision Pathfinders

To this end, the Scottish Funding Council is partnering with institutions and stakeholders in the North-east and the South of Scotland to test a revised approach to strategic provision planning and skills alignment. Regional Tertiary Provision Pathfinders in each region, built on the strong foundations of existing partnerships, will assess demand and secure skills provision that aims to balance the needs of students, employers, and local economic and community requirements. These Pathfinders are a direct response to the findings and recommendations in our Review of Coherent Provision and Sustainability, and form a key action to help deliver the Scottish Government’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation.

We will deliver Pathfinder activity through four phases:

Regional Priorities

A key aim of the Pathfinders is to advance more collaborative approaches to local skills planning. Based on their knowledge and understanding of local demand and need, partners in both regions, including universities, colleges, Local Authorities, and skills and enterprise agencies, are progressing seven pilot projects focused on regional skills priorities. These pilots include projects in specific sectors of both regional economies, as well as initiatives which will encourage collaborations between institutions and strengthen partnership approaches.

Data and Analysis

Specific data and analysis about the type and nature of tertiary education and skills provision available in both regions, and how it has changed over time, will give us an up-to-date understanding of the courses and provision available to learners and highlight any gaps. This work is already underway, and we are working closely with Skills Development Scotland on qualitative and quantitative work to gather insights across the two geographies.

Process Analysis

Through close engagement with curriculum planning practitioners across the institutions, we are exploring how tertiary provision is planned and curriculums are designed, and where SFC can support these processes.

Reflections and Recommendations

We want to share what we learn from these initiatives – including the direct findings, good practice, and any challenges we encounter – with the sector and beyond, considering what could potentially be applied in other parts of the country. We will also use the insights of local partners involved in setting regional skills policy agendas, as well as sector practitioners, and leading experts on our National Advisory Board to share new thinking in this area.

Ensuring the widest possible benefit

Karen WattWe live in interesting times, and it will never be possible to predict exactly what the future will bring. Skills alignment goes well beyond a simple approach to matching individuals to available vacancies. It must be rooted in local knowledge; sound evidence and analysis; a collective understanding of ambition and economic futures; and in ensuring that school pupils, people furthest from the labour market alongside people in work have the information they need to make the best possible choices for their future.

Our ambition in delivering these initial Pathfinders includes assessing demand and securing provision that balances the diverse, complex needs of students, employers, local commitments and national priorities, and makes a difference for the communities we serve.