03 February 2011

S3M-7436 Further Education Colleges

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S3M-7436, in the name of Andrew Welsh, on Scotland’s further education colleges. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates the staff and students of Angus College on what it considers another successful year in providing high-quality training and resources in its continuing exceptional contribution to building Scotland’s skills base for the future and also acknowledges the wider role of Scotland’s further education colleges in upskilling and retraining across the range of professional and practical skills considered essential in overcoming the challenges of the current economic situation.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):

First, I congratulate, in the conventional way, Andrew Welsh on securing this debate. Of course, my congratulations are tinged with sadness, because there is every chance that this is the last motion that will be debated in Andrew Welsh’s name in a distinguished parliamentary career that extends back more than 37 years. Another opportunity might come along, but I suspect not. Presiding Officer, I must also apologise to you, the minister and colleagues as I will be leaving the debate early. I have been in the chamber almost all day and have one or two other things to do.

As it is the Chinese new year, it is particularly appropriate that the debate centres on Angus College, which has been developing links with Yantai Vocational College in China. Moreover, I know that the member sponsoring the debate has great interests in China and, indeed, is one of the few members who can speak some sensible words in Chinese. That link reflects enthusiastic work that has been carried out by organisations right across Angus and illustrates that successful colleges not only have deep roots in their own communities, but will work with others. I am sure that such a relationship, with the college at its centre, will benefit the local area.

Of course, when the economy is in a less-than-ideal condition, it becomes ever more important that we have a range of opportunities to allow people to upgrade and change their skill sets. Indeed, many people go to college not because it is second best—a phrase that Johann Lamont did not want us to use and which I certainly do not wish to—but because it often provides a second chance to acquire the skills that they require. It is also a good starting point that allows people to take things to whatever level they are capable of reaching. A sufficient and capable further education sector is a central part of the Government’s programme.

Offshore energy is a very important industry in Angus and, indeed, in my constituency, where Banff and Buchan College has a long engineering tradition, thanks to its proximity to the offshore industries that will continue to be important. Now that Peterhead has been designated as a key hub of Scotland’s offshore renewables industry, the local college in my constituency will play an important role in ensuring that we have the necessary skills to support the economic benefits that will come from that industry.

Colleges play an important role in allowing people to retrain or to gain more skills throughout their lives and are, of course, a vital destination for many school leavers: last year, 27 per cent of school leavers attended FE colleges.

There are, of course, specific challenges in rural or relatively sparsely populated areas. I think that we all welcome the announcement that was made yesterday that the University of the Highlands and Islands has finally become a university formally. It reflects the specific needs of the very different area within which it operates. Exactly the same point can often be made about our colleges.

In my previous role, I was engaged with Montrose harbour, which is an important place where people from Angus College may go. It is slightly amusing that Montrose was, of course, the base of an important American engineering company called Stewart & Stevenson.


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