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James Watt quits employers' association;FE Focus

Greenock college follows Aberdeen out of the Association of Scottish Colleges.

The principal of James Watt College in Greenock has called for a federal structure to replace the existing employers' association for further education.

James Watt has followed Aberdeen College in pulling out of the Association of Scottish Colleges, claiming it cannot adequately represent the interests of 43 diverse incorporated colleges.

Terry Davies, the principal of James Watt, told the TES Scotland: "We don't feel the ASC is geared to the needs of the larger colleges. But we told them we didn't want to make a fuss - we would simply resign quietly and bash on. We believe it will be easier to make a case for our distinctive needs on our own."

Tom Kelly, the ASC chief officer, said they regretted the James Watt decision but would be happy to welcome the college back. "They've made a mistake. The notion of individual colleges working their own destiny in defiance of the world is out of step with the times, when we have a Government that talks collaboration and co-operation."

Mr Davies suggested there should be a federated structure in which colleges with similar interests would form "a partnership of equals". These would involve the large colleges who were formerly in the FE "polytechnic group," the Glasgow community colleges, the colleges which constitute the University of the Highlands and Islands, and the recently formed rural colleges' forum.

But Mr Kelly dismissed the idea. "Which grouping would you join? It is difficult enough to establish FE in the public mind without it fragmenting into separate interest groups to make their case.

"There is nothing in membership of the ASC which precludes colleges getting together when they have specific interests to represent, either through their location or the nature of their provision. What matters is having a single, strong voice for FE which can speak for the sector as a whole when it matters.

"All the evidence is that the sectors that do best and establish a strong presence are those such as the local authorities and higher education which are represented by unified bodies such as Cosla and Coshep."

James Watt, the third largest FE college with 13,000 students, will save pound;8,000 in membership fees by severing its links with the ASC.

There are no indications that any other colleges are planning to follow Aberdeen and James Watt out of the Association.

Rumour held that Edinburgh's Telford College, the largest in Scotland, was disenchanted. But Fiona Baikie, the principal, firmly denied any intention to go it alone.

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