Role of Scotland’s colleges : balancing economic and social objectives
Purves, Richard Ian
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Recent Scottish Government policy has increasingly emphasised lifelong learning as the means of developing the nation’s skills and employability. Colleges are frequently presented as the key driver of widening access to lifelong learning in Scotland and are expected to provide effective responses to both social and economic problems. This research focuses on the balance struck in government policy in relation to Scotland’s colleges with regard to social and economic objectives and how this policy is mediated in three diverse colleges. Utilising case studies of three colleges in Scotland, this study found that the economic focus of the Scottish Government, coupled with the market values of the college sector following the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992, has resulted in some colleges emphasising economic priorities at the cost of social objectives. College education is presented as the bridge to the labour market and this has resulted in students equating college learning with acquiring the necessary qualifications to obtain employment. In the larger colleges (both the result of recent mergers) social network development is treated as a by-product rather than a central objective and the connections made by students tend to be confined to narrow subject areas. Learning at these colleges is compartmentalised, so that students develop ‘bonding’ rather than ‘bridging’ social capital, which may narrow rather than widen their horizons (Putnam, 2000). Pursuit of funding initiatives and performance indicators at the larger colleges led to tensions amongst staff members over the loss of community focus and, in the case of one college, a significant increase in learners under 16. The smaller college exhibited a clear community focus, allowing for greater levels of social interaction. It is suggested that colleges need to develop further their role as generators of social, as well as human, capital.