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.
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.”