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Forty-seven colleges are more than Scottish further education needs. That is a view widely held. Yet since incorporation almost a decade ago there have been no amalgamations. By contrast in higher education, whose funding is overseen by the same set of officials that deal with FE, there has been a series of mergers.

The HE funding council from the outset said it would not ordain amalgamations. No doubt it has exerted pressure when it thought fit and allocates money to smooth the way when institutions see their future in marriage. The FE council in time may adopt more of a hands-on position. For the moment it confines itself to a "mapping exercise" which will show what colleges offer and how they go about it.

Will this lead to mergers? In Glasgow, where 10 colleges are certainly too many but where a network has ben established for two years, a review is already under way. The problem across the country is that although colleges differ in size and record of financial health they do not have the wildly differing characteristics that prompted marriages within higher education. There the prevailing climate, not least in funding, made "monotechs", especially those dependent on teacher training, run for cover within broader based universities.

Freed from local government, FE is still discovering itself. Colleges were first asked to compete, then overnight to collaborate. Since neither out-and-out competition nor self-denying collaboration makes practical management sense, principals remain unsure of the way ahead. The Scottish Further Education Funding Council, having pored over its "maps", may be forced to take the lead.

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