"The link between learning and prosperity is a very direct one," Wendy Alexander will tell the annual conference of the Association of Scottish Colleges. But the key battle she expects colleges to win is to reach the "forgotten million" without formal education or skills.
Ms Alexander will point out that the Executive has been putting its money where its mouth is, boosting support for FE by 50 per cent, from pound;289 million in 1998-99 to pound;436 million by 2003-04.
But she also intends to send a signal that she has been listening carefully to constant complaints from colleges that additional money has been handed out largely for additional responsibilities, and that colleges are still not adequately funded for their core teaching work.
Ms Alexander will tell them: "As new programmes become embedded we can and will stand back and contemplate a more holistic, less compartmentalised approach to funding." Each extr pound, however, had to have maximum impact and effect.
She referred to the management of colleges but did not outline any new initiatives beyond saying she wanted all colleges "to really shine in terms of management, strategy and delivery".
Ms Alexander will pay tribute to the efforts of Reid Kerr College in her Paisley North constituency which had recovered from financial crisis through "an urgent and single-minded commitment to action".
She will add: "I suspect that the main bulk of the sector, which is performing well, finds the drag of an underperforming tail an unnecessary and costly hindrance. Less than best practice is a drain on the rest of you, on the taxpayer, and it is unacceptably poor service to the local community and students."
Ms Alexander is not committing herself either to any policy line on college mergers, simply observing: "We should be looking to patterns of supply which match 21st century demands rather than those which reflect local authority priorities of bygone decades."