Ensuring students stay the course

Raising attainment, improving retention at Scotland’s world class colleges. 

The first national improvement programme to raise attainment and improve retention in Scotland’s colleges has been launched by Further Education Minister Shirley-Anne Somerville.

The new improvement programme will explore what is already working well and what more the FE sector can do to ensure college students stay on and gain the full benefits of attending college.  

The Minister announced the programme during a visit to West College Scotland, one of five colleges participating in the first phase of this new initiative.

Ms Somerville said: 

“I want more students not just to enrol and to enter college, but to stay the course and emerge with a qualification that demonstrates they have fulfilled their potential.

“Statistics show staying on at college and gaining a qualification at one of our excellent colleges pays off, as a record high of 49.2% of people aged 16-64 have further or higher education qualifications. Therefore, it is vital that the FE sector explores how colleges can fully support all students to successfully complete their courses and get the skills and qualifications they need to succeed in life. 

“This improvement programme will look at the issues and challenges that often contribute to students not gaining a qualification, or indeed dropping out. Five colleges will form an improvement team and undertake testing, gathering information about what works to share across the sector, making sure we see a consistent increase in attainment and retention.

“Our colleges are well placed to achieve this. They are already at the forefront of creating a highly innovative and skilled, entrepreneurial future workforce. My visit to West College Scotland today, which has excellent links with industry, has shown me this first-hand.”

Audrey Cumberford, Principal and Chief Executive of West College Scotland, said:

“Our employer partners play a vital role in ensuring students leave West College Scotland fully equipped for the world of work.

“We actively encourage employers to help us shape the curriculum, ensuring it is always up-to-date and relevant to the needs of the student, the employer and the wider regional economy. Today the minister saw the range of sectors we work with, including professional cookery, energy engineering and interior design. In each area, she will have been impressed by the depth of our relationship and the commitment employers have to working with the College.

“Employer engagement means we can offer students at West College Scotland “real-life” experiences of the workplace, while they study at College for professional qualifications. This often involves companies setting “live” business project briefs, inviting students to go off-campus to work with them, and then following-up with valuable mentoring and assessments. 

“As well as the obvious benefit such an approach has for student and employer, we think it is an approach which can help raise retention and attainment levels across the sector.”


In an address to college leaders at Airth Castle on 31 March, the Minister said she wished to explore new ways to boost FE retention and attainment rates. Particularly those students currently most at risk of withdrawing without achieving a qualification or moving to a positive destination. 

The five colleges taking part in phase 1 of the project are:

    • Dundee and Angus College
    • Edinburgh College
    • Inverness College – UHI
    • New College Lanarkshire
    • West College Scotland

Improvement work will take place concurrently in each college, led by college-based improvement teams, guided and supported by a Scottish Government Improvement Advisor.

The overall aim is that over the academic years 17/18 and 18/19, we will learn what works for improved retention and attainment for students on FE courses in colleges.


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