Education Minister ‘mired in fantasy’ slur over college mergers

I was very disappointed by Mike Russell’s patronising response to my question in the chamber today on the Stevenson College and Jewel & Esk College merger.   I asked about what the merger would mean for jobs, increased travelling times and the potential for this to lead to transport and childcare problems.   The Cabinet Secretary retorted that my question was ‘mired in fantasy’.   His answer to me shows a total lack of respect towards the Staff and Students asking questions about these very real and potential problems.     It is the job of opposition members to ask critical questions and test ministerial policy.   Given that the Cabinet Secretary last week described the proposed raft of mergers as “terrific” I felt a reality check was in order.

During a visit to Stevenson College last month I was told of concerns that the consultation proposals lack detail on the educational justification for the merger.  The consultation exercise should be an opportunity to address people’s worries.   Although I am not against college mergers in principle they need to be done for the right reasons and not just as cost cutting exercises.    For example I backed the Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art merger because I felt that it made educational and financial sense and as a result, both the Students and Staff would benefit.  

I know that Staff, Students and the college community are really concerned about the impact of the merger on jobs, travelling times and their ability to get to and from college.   What if somebody has to take their child to school for 8.30 only to find that because of the merger they now have to be on the opposite side of the city for a 9am class?    This isn’t about scaremongering as the Cabinet Secretary alleged, but are the questions that have been put to me.

 There is some evidence from previous college mergers that an impact in dropout rates can result where the issue is not addressed directly.   Possible increases in travel times could mean people have to choose between getting their kids to school on time and going to college.   Also, many of the Staff and Students that will have to travel further won’t necessarily live on a direct travel route so there are also issues there about extra travelling costs.   And then there is the question about job losses, is the merger going to mean redundancies?   I’m saddened that the Minister did not respond to my question with the seriousness that it deserved.   Frankly, I think we deserve more of our Government Ministers and his patronising and dismissive tone does not belong in our Scottish Parliament.   Mike Russell MSP today seriously let down the Staff and Students looking for reassurance that they are not going to be negatively impacted by the merger.  

The Cabinet Secretary might have dodged my question in the chamber today but as long as Staff and Students are telling me they’re worried, I am going to keep asking questions.   I’ll also be feeding back the exchange today to those who alerted me to their worries in the first place.