Scotland politics

Scottish Tories make £60m colleges funding pledge

Students Image copyright SPL
Image caption The Conservatives claim vocational education has been starved of resources in favour of academic courses

The Scottish Conservatives have pledged an extra £60m to Scotland's colleges as the party sets out its election platform.

Extra college places would be paid for by introducing a graduate contribution to raise funds from university leavers.

The Tories said 140,000 places had been lost from Scottish colleges since 2007, and vowed to reinstate them.

The party also supports creating an extra 10,000 modern apprenticeships.

Party leaders have started setting out their stalls ahead of May's elections.

Labour has announced a housing policy targeting first-time buyers, while the SNP pledged to put education "front and centre" in their plans.

The Conservatives produced figures suggesting the number of students at Scottish colleges was at its lowest number on record, with staff numbers also down a fifth since 2008.

Party leader Ruth Davidson said the SNP's record on colleges was the government's "hidden shame".

She said: "The SNP has built monuments to itself on so-called free education, while quietly demolishing the ladder of opportunity that our colleges provide to thousands of youngsters.

Image caption Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the SNP government's record on colleges was its "hidden shame"

"We reject the discrimination which favours academic over vocational courses. A Scottish Conservative government would therefore reverse the cuts made by the SNP to Scotland's college budget.

"We would pay for this through our existing plan to back graduate contribution, paid for only after university graduates are earning a decent wage."

Education is set to be a key battleground in the election on 5 May, with first minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon promising to put it "front and centre".

She said Scotland under the SNP was reducing the attainment gap "faster than the rest of the UK".

The SNP criticised the graduate contribution plan, saying it showed a vote for the Tories was "a vote to end free higher education in Scotland".

George Adam, a member of the education and culture committee at Holyrood, said: "The Tories claim that their colleges policy will be funded 'in its entirety' by a graduate contribution - but without any detail about how much students would be expected to pay, or exactly when they would have to start paying it, their colleges policy has absolutely no credibility.

"It is also completely unacceptable to leave young people considering going to university in the dark about what it will cost them."

Scottish Labour's opportunity spokesman Iain Gray said: "The SNP want to be judged on their record and the first minister said education is her top priority.

"Well, the SNP's record on colleges is simply shameful with 140,000 fewer students in Scotland's colleges, and 3,500 fewer lecturers

"That record means lost opportunities for our young people, but those young people deserve better than unfunded promises from the Tories."

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