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'Fresh blood and new ideas' for colleges

MINISTERS have announced their conversion to the need to streamline and modernise the boards of FE colleges - but stopped short of introducing the "democratic accountability" unions have been demanding.

In the Scottish Executive's response today (Friday) to a national consultation exercise, Iain Gray, Lifelong Learning Minister, said he had accepted that changes were required "to bring in more fresh blood and new ideas".

Two of the proposals make a direct acknowledgement of unease at the way some colleges have been run: new arrangements for allowing complaints to be considered by an independent arbiter and an additional power for the FE funding council to attend meetings of college boards.

The review was sparked by the scandal which surrounded Moray College in Elgin, where investigations were mounted by the Auditor-General for Scotland and the Scottish Parliament's audit committee into financial and management irregularities. Among other changes are the introduction of a national training programme for the 500-plus board members and an independent element in the process of appointing members.

The Executive also plans to restrict membership to a maximum of eight years rather than the current limit of 12 years.

Mr Gray said that, given the pound;500 million the Executive will have invested in colleges by 2006, "standards of financial management and propriety must be exemplary".

The sector will also have to ensure that appointment processes are consistent and follow good practice, make more use of powers to attract specialist skills and expertise, and encourage boards to have a better gender, ethnic and age mix.

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