An Insight into the Further Education Sector in Scotland

In considering the importance of the FE, we note that the significant contribution that Scotland’s colleges make to the economy is recognised, what is less discussed is the impact and contribution the sector makes in addition to its direct employment and spending power. Over and above creating jobs and supporting economic activity through direct spend (in many parts of Scotland, the sector provides vital employment opportunities that would not otherwise be available), it is worth noting the important role the College sector plays in widening access to post-school education – potentially improving income equality and inclusive growth – colleges also contribute to national economic growth through increasing human capital.

A report by education economic consultants EMSI (2015), considered the impact of staff and college expenditure on the Scottish economy, with direct and indirect benefits estimated to have added in excess of £700 million in Gross Value Added (GVA) to the Scottish economy annually.

Scotland’s colleges not only educate students who are diverse in age, they have a relatively high proportion of students from more disadvantaged backgrounds. Local colleges are of particular value to those who require more flexible learning options, those for whom access to higher education is limited as well as students seeking vocational, professional or technical qualifications. At a time where there is a particular focus on the need for more of the workforce, especially women, to be trained in STEM subjects, the role of colleges is central.

All the above being said, the 2017 Audit Scotland report on the College Sector comments that whilst “colleges have exceeded the national target for learning ……… this will become harder because of demographic and other changes”. Significant change is partly driven by government policy but also by changing demographics and the activities of other education providers. As secondary schools seek to retain students as long as possible and other tertiary education providers expand into different arenas, the further education sectors are being continuously squeezed.

Key themes that the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science pointed to at the Scottish College Expo 2018 included;

  • The expectation of greater collaboration between colleges and innovation centres.
  • Continuing to widening access to skills and qualifications.
  • Improved Professional Standards (a consultation started in November 2017).
  • More partnership working with other stakeholders (educational institutions and employers).
  • Improved articulation.
  • Strong leadership.

Strong Leadership, it can be argued is the most vital element, in light of the challenging operating environment and greater expectations of partnership working, Boards are increasingly looking to appoint leaders with well developed stakeholder management and relationship building skills who demonstrate a visionary strategic approach. It is perhaps no surprise that the role of College Principal is viewed as the role of a CEO. In the work we undertake to support transformational, step-change senior appointments in the sector we find that successful candidates need to be able to demonstrate a powerful mix of technical abilities, strategic foresight, operational planning, inspirational leadership, change management and first-rate networking and interpersonal skills as well as good commercial business sense, to be effective.

Boards of Management are also seeking an ever-broader range of skills and experience when making new Board appointments. The increased focus on ensuring gender diversity on College Boards is another area that a carefully managed proactive search process can add particular value, as the saying goes ‘you find what you look for’.

Posted by Alan Walter

Alan Walter

Higher Education


Emma Wilkins of Dixon Walter, led the recruitment campaign for this key appointment. It follows successful academic leadership appointments elsewhere for the University. Emma has taken much time to understand the institution and provide key advice on how to market the opportunities to ensure the best talent is found.

Higher Education


Hands up who’s ready for half term! Phew what a busy start to the academic year it’s been. At Dixon Walter, we’ve been busy working on some fantastic appointments with existing clients and new. Thank you to all those who continue to support us.