THE principal of West College Scotland today pledged that the Greenock campus will NOT be downgraded - and vowed to build a new centre 'fit for the 21st century'.

Liz Connolly, who took over the reins last year, says that her vision is to create a vibrant centre of learning and build on the foundations already put in place.

The principal hit back over concerns raised by the local Save Our College campaign, which has accused bosses of cutting courses and reducing student numbers since a merger with Clydebank and Paisley's Reid Kerr back in 2013.

Those concerns have prompted local councillors from across all parties to raise concerns.

Ms Connolly admits the college faces tight resources but says they have a promise from the government that funding for a new campus, to replace the Finnart Street and Waterfront, is a priority.

She said: "I don't know how many times I can say it, we are fully committed to a campus in Greenock.

"There are no plans to downsize or whatever.

"I share people's passions to invest in a vibrant campus offering opportunities to learn.

"The Greenock campus is a vital component of West College Scotland.

"I care about the success of all three campuses and I am happy to meet with anyone to discuss our plans."

Late last year the Telegraph revealed WCS plans to build a new £100m campus at east India Harbour as the maintenance bill for the current Finnart Street building stacks up.

Bosses say it would cost £15m to replace the cladding on the building alone.

But hopes of building on the waterfront have run into difficulty because the land is earmarked for housing and the plan has been criticised by campaigners and councillors.

In an exclusive interview with the Tele, the principal added: "We are continuing to talk to the council about about planning issues.

"We have had assurances from the Scottish Funding Council that we are a priority for funding for a new campus.

"This has long been identified as an issue.

"I want a college fit for the 21st century.

"I understand there are staff who want the college to stay where it is.

"The Finnart Street building was designed to meet the needs of a college in the 1960 and 70s and the way we learn is changing."

Addressing some of the concerns raised by the campaign, she admitted that she would like to see more evening classes and said that certain classes in the community had been cut.

But Ms Connolly added: "I think we are all aware of the difficult times we are living in.

"We have finite resources in further education.

"We have to make the college financially viable.

"We have to look at ways of delivering courses that best meets the needs of all our students."

The college is set to announce a 'memorandum of understanding' with Inverclyde Council to look at more learning in the community and the Greenock campus will also be the base for a new centre of excellence for cyber security.

Ms Connolly added: "We have to look at where the jobs are going to be in years to come.

"This is a growing industry and we want Greenock to be at the centre of this."

She praised the workforce at the college, hailing her staff as 'really committed' and highlighted the success of several departments including hairdressing and beauty, science, catering and engineering.

The principal added: "We are continually looking at our curriculum with our staff, how to adapt it and make it relevant.

"We have close links with hundreds of employers.

"An example of this is the increase in early years learning staff and we have catered for that across all our campuses."

West College Scotland has faced criticisms over a failure to keep courses in Greenock and recruit students but management have disputed the numbers cited by campaigners.

Principal Connolly added: "With regards to college numbers there are a lot of factors at play.

"We have many challenges to meet.

"We are fighting with a demographic change - the number of 18 to 21-year-olds has dropped by 13 per cent.

"More pupils now stay in school until sixth year and that is why we work with local secondary schools."

Ms Connolly believes the college will have to adapt and look to atttract older students if it is to thrive in the future.

She said: "We have to look at ways to attract mature students and people looking to upskill."