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30 January 2018, 14:40
The number of college students in Scotland has risen by more than 3% in the past year but is down 38% on 2007/2008, new figures show.
A Scottish Funding Council (SFC) report states 235,737 students were studying at colleges across Scotland in 2016/17, up 3.8% on the previous year.
However, opposition politicians have highlighted the total number of students number has fallen by 38% from from 379,233 in 2007/2008
The party's education spokesman Iain Gray said: "Of course, any rise in the number of people going to college - however small - is to be welcomed.
"But the reality remains that opportunities for people to go on to college have been choked off by the SNP government - a government that claims education is its top priority.
"Under the SNP, 143,000 fewer people are going to colleges."
Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said echoed his concerns and highlighted that part-time further education enrolments have fallen by 51% in the same period, despite a 5.4% rise between 2015/16 and 2016/17.
She said: "Part-time students are crucial to the flexibility of the economy and access to courses is vital for those trying to balance work and study."
The SFC report states the fall in student numbers from 2006/07 is due to the "policy shift away from short courses and non-recognised qualifications that did not support labour market demands" and student numbers have "comparably levelled out since 2012-13''.
The figures show the proportion of learning hours for students with a declared disability has increased slightly up from 16.8% in 2015/16 to 17.1% in 2016/17.
The proportion of learning hours for students for black and minority ethnic background rose 0.4% in the same period, to 6.4%.
The statistics also show colleges have beaten government targets for full-time equivalent places and number of core credits delivered.
Further and Higher Education Minister Shirley-Anne Somerville said: "Over the last decade, Scotland's colleges have undergone a transformation. They are now delivering more recognised qualifications to students from an increasingly diverse range of backgrounds.
"This report shows two things, that the quality of learning at our colleges has never been higher and also that the college sector has equality firmly established at its heart - something we highlighted in a recent government report."
Shona Struthers, Chief Executive, Colleges Scotland, said: "This latest report has confirmed that colleges are continuing to punch above their weight, not only meeting their targets but exceeding them.
"It is encouraging to see an increase in enrolments to part-time courses. Part-time study is important for people who need a route back into learning, have caring responsibilities, are living with a disability, and for those who want to retrain or upskill and improve their employability."