Tories plan national virtual college to boost sector after SNP ‘neglect’

The Scottish Conservatives hope to establish a national virtual college to help rural students learn the skills they need.

Deputy leader Meghan Gallacher said the Tories want to “revive” Scotland’s college sector after “years of neglect” at the hands of the Scottish Government.

As well as plans for a virtual National College of Scotland – which Tories say would be similar to the Open University – the Conservatives also say they would work with industry to create a National Skills Strategy for Scotland.

Ms Gallacher outlined the proposals during a General Election campaign visit to Ayrshire College’s Ayr campus to learn about the apprenticeships it offers students, including those which can help learners into a career in the aerospace industry.

However she said that at the moment, “Scotland’s college sector is in crisis due to systemic underfunding by the SNP Government”.

The Tory MSP said cuts to funding for the sector “pose an existential threat to Scotland’s colleges” but also risk creating a “shortage of young people with the skills that employers need”.

She said: “The Scottish Conservatives are committed to properly funding apprenticeships and ensuring that funding is directed towards the areas of greatest workforce need.

“We would do this by working with industry to create a National Skills Strategy.

“The Scottish Conservatives are also committed to establishing a virtual National College of Scotland – similar to the Open University but for further education – so that those living in rural and remote areas can still acquire the skills they, and employers, need.

“Our plans would revive Scotland’s colleges after years of SNP neglect.”

SNP education spokeswoman and Glasgow West candidate Carol Monaghan said: “It takes a very special kind of brass neck for the Tories to claim that they have plans to fix anything, because the truth is they are the primary cause of the crisis in terms of fully funding our public services.”

Ms Monaghan said the Conservatives had “pursued a litany of policies that have hit Scotland’s higher education sector incredibly hard, not least the disasters of Brexit and 14 years of cuts”.

She stated: “Their woeful economic mismanagement and a Westminster cost-of-living crisis have also sent costs soaring for students and colleges, and with the loss of freedom of movement they have chosen a path which limits opportunities for Scotland’s young people.

“That is why the SNP is calling for Scotland to rejoin the EU, for an end to cuts to Scotland’s public services and for a future made in Scotland, for Scotland.

“The SNP has also shown the difference that is made when Scotland’s interests are put first in government: investing over £2.4 billion in Scotland’s post-school education and ensuring the highest proportion of school leavers are in education, employment or training.”