A new report published today by College Development Network (CDN) and Colleges Scotland, through CDN’s Research and Enhancement Centre, highlights the central role that Scotland’s colleges play in tackling poverty and in creating a more inclusive society.

Pathways from Poverty: Current Challenges and the Role of Colleges highlights the vital position of colleges as anchor institutions in local communities, providing a focal point not just for education but for community engagement and action in relation to poverty.

The report shows that Scotland’s 26 colleges each played a crucial part in the nation’s pandemic response – providing students with digital devices, access to learning spaces for vulnerable students, and additional student support funding throughout the pandemic. The report draws attention to the need for colleges to continue their support for students at a time when the cost-of-living crisis and generational poverty continue to harm the chances of students reaching their full potential.

Commissioned by think tank IPPR Scotland, the research highlights the essential function of colleges in driving educational and career progression for some of the country’s most disadvantaged students. Colleges offer educational and vocational opportunities to young people from some of the poorest communities in Scotland, proactively working with schools to address the school attainment gap – that is, the difference in achievement between Scotland’s poorest and richest young people.

Understanding the significant and detrimental impact that poverty has on children’s life chances, colleges already provide practical solutions to the challenges of deprivation faced by many of their students, including digital poverty, period poverty and food poverty.

Jim Metcalfe, Chief Executive of College Development Network, said:

“Around a third of college students in Scotland come from the 20% most deprived postcodes in the country, and Scotland’s colleges are the first port of call for many young people affected by poverty. It’s clear that the next few years will be challenging for the communities that colleges serve, but these will continue to develop their important role as regional anchor institutions.

“More than 40% of university entrants from the most deprived postcodes first went to college. However, this new report shows that the critical role colleges play in their communities goes far beyond the courses they provide. From food, finance and technology to mental health and wellbeing support, there are many examples of the impact that colleges make on young people’s lives and success.

“We look forward to leading conversations with the college sector that will flow from this report to maximise the potential of all our students, and to drive change in Scotland’s economy.”

Lydia Rohmer, Principal and Chief Executive, West Highland College UHI and Board Member of Colleges Scotland, said:

“Students have had a really challenging time during the pandemic, showing huge resilience to finish their studies and gain the qualifications they worked so hard for during lockdowns, disruption, and periods of isolation.

“Poverty is an acute issue for some college students, many of whom come to college not just to improve their own opportunities but to provide a brighter, more stable, future for their families. We know poverty can really impact the ability of students to learn and thrive while undertaking their studies.

“This report highlights the good work colleges are doing now, and we look forward to the next discussions around the potential of colleges to support pathways out of poverty for students across the country.”

Casey Smith, Researcher at IPPR Scotland, said:

“IPPR Scotland is pleased to have prepared this report, the most in-depth report of its type involving colleges across Scotland. It aims to understand the role colleges had prior to the pandemic, and the crucial role many colleges took on during the peak of the crisis, to begin to understand the role that colleges in Scotland will need to take in tackling poverty post-pandemic.”

Read the full report here


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