Page last updated at 17:56 GMT, Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Colleges debate 2

In the closing speeches in the Conservative led debate on Scotland's college sector, Labour's Neil Findlay MSP hurled political insults in the direction of the Education Secretary Mike Russell on 14 November 2012.

Mr Findlay said the cuts to colleges had resulted in 1400 job losses and he said there had been a drop of 34% in places for young people with learning difficulties.

He went on to describe Mr Russell as a "fantasist" who insisted all was well in Scotland's colleges:

"He (Mr Russell) says it's all a huge success and anyone who dares question the education secretary is talking Scotland down, he says there are no college waiting lists, but there are 21,000 people unable to get a place. He is a Walter Mitty figure who indulges in fantasy land thinking".

In the first part of the debate opposition MSPs called on the education secretary to appear before the Education Committee, following the resignation of Kirk Ramsay, the chairman of Stow College.

Mr Ramsay blamed an "unwarranted personal attack" by Education Secretary Mike Russell.

At the weekend, the SNP minister called for Mr Ramsay to consider his position after a private discussion between them on college reforms was recorded.

The heated debate continued a pace, responding for the Scottish government, Skills Minister, Angela Constance rounded on the opposition benches accusing them of unparliamentary language, she described some of the contributions attacking Mr Russell as "scurrilous and a slur on his character".

She defended her government's record on further education and told MSPs:

"Living with the reality of tory cuts, we are indeed making tough decisions, maintaining our priorities on student numbers, we have record levels of student support second to none anywhere in these islands and have retained benefits".

The minister laid down the gauntlet to Labour and the Tories to be honest about just how much more they would put into the further education budget as she said in times of economic difficulty the money had to come from somewhere.

A recent Audit Scotland report concluded that Scotland's colleges do indeed face "considerable financial pressures" in the years ahead.

There are now 70,000 fewer people going to college than two years ago, although the government has insisted that it has "maintained college numbers at the full time equivalent of 116,000" through focusing on full-time students and cutting thousands of part-time places.

As part of overall public sector spending reductions, Scottish government revenue grant support to colleges is likely to fall from £545m in 2011-12 to £471m in 2014-15, a 24% reduction in real terms.

Concluding this Conservative led debate, Gavin Brown MSP pointed to the Audit Scotland report saying the promised assessment from the SNP government on the impact of changes had not yet materialised.

He also said the college sector was being hit disproportionately as the overall budget cut in real terms was 6% but for the college sector it was 24%. He added:

"If you have drastic cuts you will not widen access so the Scottish government have to think again about their draft budget and take on board the concerns raised today".

The first part of the debate can be viewed below:

Colleges debate 1

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