Stark warning over colleges’ future

There may be no future for  Shetland College or the NAFC Marine Centre if funding issues are not addressed.

This was the warning by South Mainland councillor George Smith, who raised his concerns at a meeting of the council’s development committee this morning.

He questioned why the NAFC is to receive four times the amount of funding from the local authority compared to the college for the financial year 2014/15.

Today members agreed to use surplus funds of about £644,000 from the Shetland Development Trust.

The money was requested for running costs for the NAFC – taking the total contribution from the council to about £1.17 million.

George Smith: "Unless we take some swift action we might not have a Shetland College or and NAFC either."

George Smith: “Unless we take some swift action we might not have a Shetland College or and NAFC either.”

But Mr Smith questioned why the NAFC was receiving so much more compared to the £296,000 Shetland College was getting – about 12 per cent of its income.

Members discussed the matter against a backdrop of decreasing council finance and a tertiary education review – a proposal to draw together Shetland College, the NAFC and Train Shetland into one entity by 2016.

Council funding to the Shetland Fisheries Training Centre – the trust that operates the NAFC – has been cut by nearly £900,000 but the council pays about £418,00 for the NAFC’s ground rentals and associated costs to property company SLAP.

However there was a warning the NAFC would not be able to continue down the same path in future.

Mr Smith called for a “level playing field” and said there was “no reason” why the NAFC could not look to external funding like Shetland College, for example considering research grants or funding from industry.

Development officer Douglas Irvine agreed that the NAFC had to look at other means of finding money.

“The NAFC must change,” he said.

“The funding package that is available at the moment is not going to be available in future.”

Wary of the funding pressure on both colleges Mr Smith said by the end of the review: “unless we take some swift action we might not have a Shetland College or an NAFC either.”

Afterwards Mr Smith explained that most of Shetland College’s funding comes from the Scottish Funding Council and is reliant on student numbers.

In a college board meeting last week, members were told Shetland College enrolment figures appeared to have peaked in 2010/11, and since then have declined by about 200 enrolments per academic session.

In the report it was stated there has been a “significant reduction” in part-time further education and part-time higher education students.

But a drop in full-time further education enrolments in 2013/14 had “impacted considerably” how much money the Scottish Funding Council should provide the college. That is based on on creating WSUMs activity – a way of measuring student activity.

Irene Peterson said the college has met its WSUMs targets in the last few years, but student numbers this academic year are looking lower than this time last year – which means there may be a clawback from the Scottish Funding Council.

Last week’s report stated it was highly likely that the college would fail to meet its WSUMs target this academic year, leading to a potential clawback of funding of up to approximately £311,000.

This would be in addition to the already forecast deficit of £269,000 in the current financial year.

Mrs Peterson added the college had known for a year or two that people are tending to stay on for 5th and 6th year at school and not necessarily doing a wide range of higher and advanced higher qualifications.

“That may have an impact on the number of young people coming to the college, and who knows definitively, but Shetland has got high employment levels.”

She added although a lot of workers in the oil and gas industry are incoming, there will be a “spin off” from that.

“Anecdotally we do hear that young people are benefitting from the opportunities for employment, maybe not necessarily in the lines they want to go into ultimately, but there are jobs if they want them.

“That could be a factor.”

Mrs Peterson said more youngsters could be staying at school to get qualifications that will help them to leave the island for further study or possibly to come to the college for further study.

She said it could also be because pupils like being in a school environment or like being in their own community.

Uptake on some Train Shetland short courses is also lower, she said.

“That could relate to the fact…the council is tightening its belt, the council is reducing what it’s spending on training and that’s having a knock-on effect here [Train Shetland] and on the college.”

She said SVQ course numbers – courses for people who are employed by the council – have dropped.

This is because the council is reducing its training and there is less training being directed towards the college therefore affecting part-time student numbers.

Shetland College was not alone in having a challenge in relation to meeting its WSUMs targets for 2013/14, said Mrs Peterson.

Meanwhile full-time higher education course numbers for the college are now greater than full-time further education numbers.

Higher education courses cover degrees, HNCs and HNDs.

“There is a gradual trend in relation to the number of full-time students that are going on and doing HE in Shetland through Shetland College… hopefully into the future there will be more growth in that area but we obviously want to pick up our numbers again on the FE front.”

About Adam Civico

The Shetland Times editor. Contact me with your news and views – a.civico@shetlandtimes.co.uk

View other stories by »

34 comments

  1. stephen shirmer

    At long last the SIC or the powers to be are beginning to realise that all these white elephants, albeit the employment it brings, are all a loss making enterprises,
    what they could of done with the other local amenities within the isles if they had only used them– if they had not had this attitude , new or big is better, perhaps there would of been less of a financial burden on the community.

    Reply
  2. Neil Anderson

    Strange thing about this college is that the council dont put their staff there for training as its too expensive !

    Reply
  3. Johan Adamson

    Now is surely the time to bring the High school higher education and the college closer together. Let students mix higher and further education, let all of them that needs to use the hostel after S4.

    Reply
  4. fraser cluness

    I can never praise the shetland college enough, at the age of 28 i walked in there with next to no qualifications, with lots of encouregment they got me up to HNC in Public Admin. Being dyslexic they did rather well getting my selfesteam to a high level after poor schooling and being treated as the thicko my entire childhood and early career they deserve any money they can get. I would question the arts and music courses where most people might have to go elsewhere to use the qualifications, but then great they can stay here to do them. Cuts i would not know where to cut so good luck to the managment on that one!
    i unfortuently could not do the degree as due to my dyslexia i could not do the finance so had to pull out from going further, perhaps they could develop that. conserate on indestry, building, business more.

    Reply
  5. Andy Garden

    I have never in my life heard of education and research being termed a “white elephant”! You should be ashamed of yourself Stephen. We live in a society where education is a basic human right which is unfortunately not the case for every country. Tell me Stephen do you know what these white elephants (Shetland College and NAFC Marine Centre) provide Shetland apart from employment? Do you know what the knock on effects of employment loss from these white elephants would be to the local economy? I suspect not. You might also want to consider the people that work at these white elephants. How do you think they feel when they have to read your derogatory comments? I would imagine they are all pretty stressed at the thought of not having a job to go to and maybe having to leave Shetland. We should all be supporting our local educational and research establishments because if we don’t then what hope is there for future generations?

    Reply
    • Ali Inkster

      Should we be subsidising sooth firms? should we be paying for courses that have no real prospect of helping folk into gainful employment? All questions that need asked and if the staff at the college are so fragile they will be stressed by this letter should they really be educating anyone?

      Reply
    • John Inkster

      Education is a great thing, but it is not a human right as someone has to pay for it. It will only be there if someone does pay for it. So how does that make it a human right? It is a privilege. Stephens point was that perhaps we have had too much priority in the buildings that education is conducted in, rather than in the subject of the lessons taught, and the results achieved. Some of Shetlands most successful people were educated in old wooden huts. This simple mix of old huts, good teachers and hard work achieved exceptional results. Nothing like the grand, glass fronted, palace type buildings we see today. Perhaps the old simplicity and breaths of fresh air and rain between lessons, was partly the reason for their success. We appear to be moving towards a space station like, controlled atmosphere environment, with every surface coated in plastic and no one venturing outside unless they have to.

      Look to Chinese education to see what motivation and effort and a real hunger to do better can achieve. It has nothing to do with fancy buildings.

      Reply
  6. Steven Anderson

    Mr Smith is quite right to question this. I hear from friends in the know that more than half of the students on training courses at the fisheries college are non-shetlanders employed by companines not even based here. The fact that they are getting subsidised traning being paid for by the SIC with our money seems to me to be wrong, especially at a time when essential services are being squeezed. The rest of the things the college provides appears to be subsidising big industry who are making millions in annual profits. Surely in these times of funding shortages one should expect them to be pay the full cost for the services they get. If what is being provided was being charged at full cost and delivered by an efficient organisation there would be no need for any council funding… I imagine however if these companies were asked to pay the actual costs for what they get they would probably very quickly find several cheaper private sector providers to do the same job. One might also the question how this subsidised provision of services to national and international businesses, to the disadvantage of private sector businesses, fits in with their supposed charitable status?

    Reply
  7. stephen shirmer

    My point of white elephants is not the usefulness they bring, but the size and expenditure they cost to run, nothing against education.
    you just have to look about at the other buildings that could of been put to use at one time or another to educate people, without -new bigger (BUILDINGS) is better, as they are know finding out what it is to run such enterprises, and unfortunately it will get no cheaper.

    Regards.

    Reply
  8. Iantinkler

    Steven Anderson, I would hate to state the obvious but many, many Shetlanders owe their further education to colleges and universities outside Shetland. It is not very equitable to expect non-Shetlanders to pay fees for tuition here when our own have youngsters have free higher education on the mainland.. My only concern, with regard to Shetland College, is that so much expenditure is not targeted at the STEM subjects but pushed towards Creative Industries. That imbalance will help no one in the long term.

    Reply
  9. Scott Graham

    @ Douglas Irvine If you know that ‘The NAFC must change’ why continue to prop it up with grant funding which simply alows the management to continue on their chosen path.

    @ Andy Garden this issue is not what these institutions provide it’s a question of value for money. One would have thought that in the years since the financial crash in 2008 the people responsible for running our ‘white elephants’ should have got their house in order so that they wouldn’t in a position of needing to be funded by the council at the level they are.

    Reply
  10. Michael Inkster

    John, what then of Article 2 of the First Protocol?, Michael Inkster

    Reply
  11. Andy Garden

    I get it now, thank you John. So the reason that Shetland College and the NAFC Marine Centre are in such a bad financial position now is because of the buildings which they built decades ago and not what Scott Graham pointed out as bad management!
    I am surprised by Ali Inksters comments implying people educating others should be made of stearner stuff. Why? Ali did back up my point though, do you know what goes on in these white elephants? It’s not just education. What about the support staff required like estates, finances, HR etc? NAFC Marine Centre also does research. What about those staff? Should they be made of stronger stuff?

    Reply
    • Ali Inkster

      Andy the building take up a hell of a lot of finance in maintenance, and Yes educators should be made of sterner stuff, teaching young folks that hysterics will get you sympathy and a few years on full pay while you get yourself together is hardly the way forward. And if you think I’m being dramatic take a close look at how many have had just that sort of treatment.

      Reply
  12. iantinkler

    Is this a very clever move if Shetland college is seriously shot of funds? A new professor for creative industries will be appointed to Shetland College – part of the Univerity of the A new professor for creative industries will be appointed to Shetland College – part of the Univerity of the Highlands and Islands network.Highlands and Islands network. The cost over five years to all funders is £670,000!!!
    http://www.shetlandtimes.co.uk/2013/10/17/creative-industries-professor-to-join-college/

    Reply
    • fraser cluness

      id be cutting the creative industuries budget and doing more business type courses. Shetland Arts already waste buckets of money without the college starting. people need real jobs, not lots of people making things no-one wants to buy at outragous prices. howmany ‘artists’ have they made and how many are actualy making full time work with it?

      Reply
  13. iantinkler

    I always feel real artists are born not manufactured on production lines in colleges. Be that music or whatever. Most of Shetlands income comes from science based industries, STEM subjects at degree level are sadly lacking on Shetland, that is where I would like to see some monies invested. I feel commercial industries such as Petrofac, Total, BP may sponsor if asked nicely, after all they are making millions and millions, just an idea..

    Reply
    • Robert Duncan

      Is that really realistic? All of the STEM-centric education facilities I’m aware of are primarily research centres, and draw in academic talent based on that. How would you attract those people to Shetland without significant funding?

      There are clear geographic reasons for a marine centre in Shetland, but far less so for a generic STEM-centric college, which would surely be a better investment for its funders if it were based on the mainland.

      If we’re going to invest in anything, I would prefer to see investment go towards the development of digital media, such as web design and programming. That is something that can allow people to work from anywhere and could help to develop the skills of Shetland-based entrepreneurs, which would benefit the isles a lot more than money going to transient oil workers and their employers.

      Reply
      • Ali Inkster

        We have an oil terminal, soon to be gas terminal, dozens of platforms and rigs, not to mention the many local engineering firms servicing the oil and gas industry and the fishing industry along with garage mechanics etc etc, and somehow we are unable to offer courses for these skill sets even though they put more into the local economy in one year than the arts will in a hundred years. providing training in engineering will be paid back many many times over. The Western Isles college provides a engineering course that every year Schlumberger attends to take its pick of the graduates. These graduates will go on to work in the oil industry around the world and take their wages back to the Western Isles to build homes and raise families or maybe even to piss it against the wall, but over the course of each of their working lives they will take several million pounds each back into their community, whereas we’re training folk to make things from bits of wool and macaroni to sell to the tourists for a few pound. Schlumberger used to have a base here and hired Shetlanders as a matter of course, since shutting the base this source of employment has virtually disappeared and our educators and council should hang their heads in shame that they dropped the ball in not doing their utmost to redress this instead of fannying about throwing money at the arts.

      • John Tulloch

        Listen up, ‘powers that be’!

  14. Robert Duncan

    As regards so called Creative Industries, I can see the motivation for it in that artists seem far more likely to be drawn to Shetland than those interested in STEM courses. We have a location that has provided muse-like inspiration for many painters, writers and musicians that is not readily available elsewhere.

    The investment is relatively small compared to the Nordic Studies course, so I’m surprised more ire isn’t directed at that.

    Reply
  15. iantinkler

    I would not suggest the STEM subjects should exclude Creative subjects, purely a balance be drawn between the two. Science would include Biology, Ecology, Marine Ecology and Marine Biology, and all that entails. Rather important to Shetland and its Marine Industries. With regard to technology and engineering, the importance is too obvious to comment on. All the former depend on a grasp of Mathematics, as for digital media is not mathematics rather necessary, if not imperative there. Unless somehow the word digital has been redefined, by the “creative” ones. Would you not agree Duncan?

    Reply
  16. Neil Anderson

    As Ali says the courses that are needed are’nt there yet you can study a NC or an HNC in music at Mareel !

    What a complete and utter waste of money !

    Reply
  17. Linsey Nisbet

    This debate once again leads me to recall the wisdom of Sir Winston Churchill who, when asked why he was still directing money into the ‘arts’ during World War Two, replied that we must never forget what we are fighting for.

    Reply
    • Neil Anderson

      Well that was true in 1945 people in this country had nothing , in 2014 its a completely different situation.

      These music courses are a bit like the infamous sports science degree courses where 99% cant get a job after , the investments should be trades and IT as well as martitime and admin thats the future

      Reply
    • Ali Inkster

      Ah Linsey it may remind you of that but it certainly wasn’t said by Churchill, It was in fact the Nazis that went on a European wide tour of art galleries helping themselves to whatever took their fancy.

      Reply
  18. Iantinkler

    Sorry Linsey, the quote is quite bogus. What Churchill actually did was inspire Churchill College, University of Cambridge, predominately devoted to Science and Technology. “According to Churchill’s vision, the College was created with a bias towards science, and it admits a higher proportion of scientists and technologists than most other colleges”
    reference; http://www.winstonchurchillfoundation.org/cambridge.html

    Reply
    • Brian Smith

      Absolutely right. Churchill said: ‘Shut door Mareel right away!’

      Reply
      • Ali Inkster

        Another in depth historical insight Brian.

  19. Robert Duncan

    Ali Inkster, I would broadly agree with your comments above – I too would like to see the NAFC expand their general engineering programme to at least HND level, as is widely offered in the Western Isles. I’m not sure the relevance of that to my own comments on the viability of degree level courses, however.

    Ian Tinkler, I would again ask how viable you think a degree level institution in the likes of Biology would be in Shetland. Universities offering this elsewhere rely heavily on two revenue streams – from a) their own research and b) fee-paying international students.

    On the first point, how valuable will the research really be from a facility here, with relatively piddling funding for equipment and an extremely small academic group? I don’t see how you would attract strong academics to any posts on offer, when you’d be unable either to pay them as much or support their research as effectively. With that in mind, you have very little with which to attract students from abroad who will actually pay the top fees. You’ll eventually find that you are offering an extremely weak course relative to other institutions. Any ambitious learner will surely be attracted to better centres on the mainland.

    Reply
  20. Iantinkler

    Robert Duncan, I was rather under the impression post graduate MSc and PhD students may already be working towards their thesis’s at NAFC. Certainly post graduate students are under training on exploration vessels in the North Sea (geophysics ect), usually sponsored by the oil industry, I frequently see them on Shetland. It should not be beyond the ability of human ingenuity to arrange and create such studies on Shetland with industrial sponsorships. There is no question the pristine coastal maritime, offshore, and peat land habitats provide perfect environments for bio-science research at under and post graduate levels, that is as long as they are not destroyed by industrial wind farms first!. Mainland universities are already sending students to Shetland on research projects. With intelligent liaison with mainland universities I am sure facilities at NAFC and Shetland College could be better utilised.

    Reply
    • Robert Duncan

      You make fair points, Ian, but I am not all that convinced that experienced academics working somewhere for the duration of a research project is the same as having tenured staff running undergraduate courses. Certainly having postgraduates training offshore is of little relevance, in my eyes.

      I would see a lot of benefit in the development suitable facilities for independent learning. Ultimately it just takes a modern IT suite, but there could be an overseeing body to organise groups interested in similar topics to work together using online resources or through organisations such as Open University. I simply do not think a fully-taught degree level institution is realistic.

      Reply
  21. Bob Robertson

    Shetlands colleges should think about some intelligent liaison with the university of the Highlands and Islands

    Reply
    • Robert Duncan

      They’re already entirely integrated with the UHI.

      Reply

Your Comment

Please note, it is the policy of The Shetland Times to publish comments and letters from named individuals only. Both forename and surname are required.

Comments are moderated. Contributors must observe normal standards of decency and tolerance for the opinions of others.

The views expressed are those of contributors and not of The Shetland Times.

The Shetland Times reserves the right to decline or remove any contribution without notice or stating reason.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>