Concerns raised over post-16 education bill
Structures and governance top the agenda for Colleges Scotland and EIS
The Scottish government's post-16 education bill has come under fire for creating structures that are too complex, handing too many powers to ministers, and remunerating college board chairs unnecessarily.
Evidence to the education committee from the EIS union was damning of the proposed bill: "If it's the government's wish to create a nationally incoherent FE structure with a myriad of different types of colleges, governing bodies and funding mechanisms with separate regulations for each, then this bill is the way to go about it."
The union's written submission expressed concern that "all appointed members of non-regional college boards are directly appointed by the regional board".
This would mean, said the EIS, that local colleges would become "puppets" of their regional board - especially as their chairs would also be appointed by the regional strategic body.
While the EIS had at times been critical of the way in which the Scottish Funding Council exercised some of its duties, it did at least promote a consistent approach. But transferring some of the SFC's duties to regional bodies was "ambitious and risky" and unlikely to promote consistency across Scotland, it added.
Colleges Scotland said its most significant concerns related to the "two-tier" nature of the proposed regional strategic bodies and their constituent colleges.
"The establishment of regional strategic bodies sees a significant shift in powers for funding, strategic approach and the ability of college boards within the region to manage their staff and assets," it said.
It suggested the government had underestimated the annual cost of running regional strategic bodies at £2 million and said: "There may be issues in terms of staff brought into these bodies being able to continue their pension arrangements."
It was also hard to justify the remuneration of a college board chair when other members were not paid, said Colleges Scotland.
"The chair is intended to be 'first among equals' and there is a risk of being seen to elevate the chair through this measure in appointment and remuneration."
AUTONOMY AT RISK
University leaders fear the post-16 bill challenges their institutions' autonomy.
Universities Scotland states bluntly: "It would be more consistent with responsible autonomy, with existing charity legislation, and with the long-established principle that universities should not be subject to political direction, if the Scottish Funding Council had the power which the section currently assigns to the Scottish ministers."
The Committee of Scottish Chairs warns that giving the SFC the power to specify what should be taught where would be "a serious threat to academic freedom as well as autonomy". It also calls for no cap on fees.