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Colleges told what ministers expect

Greater efficiencies, performance pay and better management of staff are among the myriad expectations of the Lifelong Learning Minister in his annual letter of guidance to the Scottish Further Education Funding Council.

This is the device used by ministers to convey to the council how they intend it should spend the Scottish Executive's pound;464 million allocated to FE this year.

Jim Wallace pays tribute to the council's achievements and progress during the past year, but makes it clear more will be needed if the Executive is to see a return for its money.

One of the new dimensions this year is the general drive to see cost-cutting in the public sector, which will involve shedding backroom jobs. For colleges, Mr Wallace says, this means "quantifiable efficiencies through collaboration between institutions".

Among the options listed are shared support services, new approaches to estates development, improved procurement and pooled research capacity.

Mr Wallace issues the same message in outlining the Executive's capital funding increases. "Investment in the college estate should be linked to delivering improvements in learning and teaching, including more effective methods of delivering programmes of learning and support services, such as through improved use of technologies," he states.

While the letter does not specify mergers or other particular forms of collaboration, it underlines the importance of co-location and shared facilities and services, the creation of low-maintenance buildings and a variety of "flexible learning opportunities" for the wider community.

A "something for something" policy will also be applied to staff management and development. "Any investment in pay modernisation should allow greater contractual flexibility and greater linkage of pay to performance at local level, thereby encouraging more collaboration on human resource matters across the sector.

"It should be used to equip institutions to be competitive in the labour market and to ensure that they have staff with the necessary skills and flexibility necessary to meet changing demands."

One of these demands will be the increased work lecturers will undertake with school pupils, and Mr Wallace says there will be national guidance on this matter to ensure those college staff involved have some form of teaching qualification.

The letter shows no signs of Executive backing for a return to national pay bargaining, the closest reference being a call "to foster and maintain good relationships between all groups and interests in the sector, especially between employers, staff and their unions".

Mr Wallace commends the "round table" meetings that take place involving the unions, the Executive and the Association of Scottish Colleges.

There is an "as you were" signal on the governance of colleges, with Mr Wallace commending "robust and autonomous governing bodies" practising "transparency and accountability".

But he reminded the council that the remit of the Scottish public services ombudsman would be extended to colleges and universities, under the Bill to merge the further and higher education funding councils. This takes effect from August, assuming the legislation is passed.

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