Worry as student numbers continue to fall at college

Edinburgh College is being bullish about figures. Picture: Jon Savage
Edinburgh College is being bullish about figures. Picture: Jon Savage
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ENROLMENTS at Edinburgh College are in a state of “precipitous decline” and set to plunge further ahead of the coming academic year, union leaders have claimed.

Members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country’s largest teaching union, said cash problems and management failings were to blame.

Fears of a collapse in college registrations come after new figures revealed a near-40 per cent drop in enrolments between 2010-11 and 2013-14.

Leaders at the institution – formed in 2012 through the merger of Telford, Stevenson and Jewel & Esk colleges – have been battling to balance the books amid Scottish Funding Council cuts.

In a bid to prioritise opportunities for younger students, education ministers have also reduced investment in short courses and classes which do not lead to a recognised qualification. EIS chiefs said the controversial merger had created image problems which are discouraging potential applicants.

A spokesman said: “EIS-FELA [Further Education Lecturers Association] officials are gravely concerned about our projected student numbers for 2015-16. Applications across departments at Edinburgh College are in a state of precipitous decline. However, the College’s own Senior Management Team and Board must accept that they are in part culpable for the loss of so many students year on year since the merger.

“Support staff have wrestled selflessly with new systems but they are often perceived as having been imposed without pilot and in practice are not fit for purpose. Courses have been cut and new charges introduced.”

According to the most recently published data, total student enrolments were around 23,000 in 2013-14 – down from nearly 37,500 in 2010-11. Although the latest figures show registrations for 2014-15 have passed 23,200, EIS leaders said the college was in a parlous situation.

“Unless resources and a national bargaining process designed to reward staff and finalise a public sector framework of democratic management can begin in the short term, both staff and students – actual and potential – will inevitably fear for the integrity of our service,” the spokesman added.

Student representatives said it was “no surprise” thousands of places had been lost. Jeroen van Herk, Edinburgh College’s student president, said: “We must ensure that the choices made over provision are based on students’ needs.”

Edinburgh College said it had received more than 25,000 applications for 2015-16, but admitted these would not all result in enrolments.

A spokeswoman said: “Although the numbers of college enrolments across Scotland have declined in recent years, Edinburgh College is now reversing this trend. Enrolments registered so far in 2014-15 are already higher than the full year for 2013-14 and we expect this growth to continue.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com