Issue 6

TRAINING, SKILLS, EDUCATION AND THE ECONOMY: EDITORIAL

By Professor Richard Kerley

Our main themed focus in this edition of SPN is education, skills, training and employment.

What emerges when you examine these four factors is the complex inter-relationships at play here. Think about the news that has emerged within Scotland over the past few weeks.

We have better employment and unemployment figures – in this most recent period – than in the UK as  a whole and yet the reasons for these different movements of employment data continue to be something of a mystery. Various labour market experts and economists have written about it and yet any ideas remain very tentative.

On the education front, there have been some mixed messages about HE in particular. Three major pieces of work, by Professors Riddell and Raffe at Edinburgh University, and Lucy Hunter a former government official involved in student finance have all published critiques of Scottish Government student finance  policy. Again it’s complex, but the current message seems to be that changes to the fee regime – both under the Lib Lab Coalition and the two SNP governments have not dramatically improved the intake into HE of students from lower income backgrounds.

At the same time the widening access initiative launched by the Government and the Scottish Funding Council has been welcomed – and a leading London based think-tank, the IPPR, has called for a similar scheme for English universities. (See Policy Shorts elsewhere in this edition)

In Further Education the consequences of regionalisation are still working through the current system, with some colleges merged; others well on the way and some still struggling with the implications. Alison Payne, of Reform Scotland discusses here their recent thoughts on the organisation and governance of our FE colleges.

Here Dave Watson of Unison, which represents a large number of the staff in FE colleges providing support to the academic staff expresses their concern about both staff worries and the overall provision of FE across the whole country but - as he argues - essentially provided where people live and work.

One of the key factors we need to get right in Scotland is transport and access to markets - to communities and to people. The balance the government has to get right is that of investment between roads and rail. Our current major rail investment programmes appear – despite claims otherwise to be  focused on the towns and cities of the Central Belt. Some of these have been very successful achievements, with impressive procurement gains, such as in Paisley. Others seem to offer limited, even marginal advantages such as the large – though perhaps smaller than first promised – investment in the main Edinburgh - Glasgow  line.  Although it represents a really bold move, the Borders rail line is at best, still to prove whether its impact benefits development in the Borders or commuter employment in Edinburgh. Outside of the Central Belt the large scale road commitments are in the ascendancy.

If the Holyrood government argues that London swamps development and employment elsewhere in the British mainland, we need to be careful that we don’t find the Central Belt sucking in development and employment from elsewhere in Scotland.

The factors that contribute to employment are many and complex. It’s at the heart of the Scottish Government's policy commitments.

By Professor Richard Kerley

Issue 6

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