THE economic impact of colleges in Scotland has been set out in a new report into the sector by the principals of the two largest colleges.

The Cumberford-Little Report, One Tertiary System: Agile, Collaborative, Inclusive, was commissioned by the Scottish Government to consider what more Scottish colleges can do to help improve businesses’ performance.

It was co-authored by Edinburgh College Principal and CEO Audrey Cumberford and City of Glasgow College Principal and CEO Paul Little.

Mr Little said: "Scotland’s colleges represent a huge national asset - yet their economic impact is not widely understood, nor recognised - despite very significant government investment.

"We think colleges' multiple roles and diverse responsibilities sometimes combine to make it difficult to describe what they're for – so we propose a refreshed purpose for colleges that is unambiguously focused on helping businesses to grow by making sure they have access to people with the technological, vocational, and 'meta' skills needed in the decade ahead - and beyond.

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"We also say we need a fresh approach to how colleges are funded and how their success is measured so as to incentivise a business-focussed approach.

"And, since colleges thrive in a system, not a hierarchy, we make clear that, building on the Government's plans to reform the learner journey, our proposals need to be anchored in a fully connected and collaborative system of pre- and post-16 learning."   

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The findings identify the significant economic impact colleges already have – a £3.5bn annual boost to GDP according to the latest figures – and identify how colleges support a wide range of Scottish Government national priorities, highlighting examples of best practice across Scotland.

The authors also make a series of recommendations aimed at allowing colleges to make a still greater contribution to business growth, particularly among Scotland’s huge SME and micro-business communities in an economic environment where the full challenges of Brexit are yet to become clear.

Dr Liz Cameron, Chief Executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce said: “Colleges are essential assets of Scotland’s economy and critical to the development and execution of the national skills agenda, not to mention core to local communities.

"The report shows how Scottish colleges can use to their advantage an international footprint that also welcomes students from across the globe.

“We put our full support behind the report’s ambition for the college sector and the urgency with which it aims to ensure the skills of our people are ready to be put to work for the benefit of Scotland’s economy.”

Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science Richard Lochhead said: "We look forward to considering all the recommendations in detail, and responding in due course."