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The core of the community

Eric Brownlie

By Eric Brownlie, Assistant Principal for Quality and Performance

In a recent documentary analysing social structures in modern-day Scotland, commentator, author and former Glasgow Clyde College Student – Darren McGarvey – made the point that class is still a real issue when deciding life choices for young people across the nation. 

Across Scotland, almost a third of full-time college students are from Scotland’s lowest socioeconomic backgrounds. At Glasgow Clyde College nearly 50 per cent of students come from the 20% most deprived areas of Scotland, known as SIMD20; however, this demographic makes up only 16% of university places nationally.

Colleges are the anchor points of local communities, supporting individuals of all ages and backgrounds to gain skills and qualifications. Compared to any other educational pathways, colleges also attract applicants from the broadest range of social demographics. Glasgow Clyde College alone has learners from more than 120 different nationalities. 

While the median age of college students in Scotland is 22, people from a wide spectrum of life stages enrol every year to retrain, upskill or simply begin education after a long break. Some will attend straight from school as a gateway to apprenticeship places or university, for others, college can be a second chance – possibly after a period of unemployment or struggles with addictions, mental health issues or even the start of a new life in Scotland. 

Glasgow Clyde College’s Community Learning and Development team helps adults to re-engage with learning, to raise aspirations, improve skills levels and provide support in some of Glasgow’s most disadvantaged communities in the North West and South of the city. A key geographical focus is the City Council’s ‘Thriving Places’ regions where nearly 48% have no local qualification. 

Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, the college offers a huge level of support to students. Every day staff help learners to grow, develop and realise their full potential. Working remotely for the last 12 months, tackling digital exclusion and fostering a sense of community online are more important than ever for developing belongingness, well-being and ultimately achieving success.

The UK Office for Budget Responsibility says about 2.2 million people, or 6.5% of all workers, could be unemployed at the end of the year. Young people especially have been hit hard as they tend to work in the sectors most impacted by COVID containment measures. 

In response, we introduced a number of part-time courses focusing on the skills needed to find a job in an increasingly competitive digital landscape. ‘Preparing for Work’ is a four-week, part time online course which helps those un- or under-employed look for employment opportunities. 

Reassuringly, in spite of the financial pressures felt during the last year, applications remain high for courses starting in August 2021. We’re seeing some very interesting trends around people who are changing career, whether that’s due to instability in the job market or a desire to pursue a more fulfilling role such as in health and social care. 

Colleges are a vital part of the wider educational landscape, opening doors which may have been previously wedged shut. Education improves lives and in Darren’s own words, "Colleges help people to learn, to self-actualise, to transcend personal difficulties and ultimately end up in a better position in their lives than they otherwise would have."