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Rebranded sector makes an early mark on MSPs

The further education sector in Scotland was officially rebranded as Scotland's Colleges on Tuesday, with a reception hosted by MSPs at the Scottish Parliament.

Craig Thomson, principal of Adam Smith college in Fife, who has been at the helm of the move, believes the new brand will give colleges a higher profile and a more coherent sense of what they are about.

Dr Thomson says there has been a feeling for some time that the sector lacks coherence and that the language used to describe it is often confusing and inaccurate.

Descriptions range from FE, further education, non-university, post-school, vocational education and training to the tec. "But if you ask students where they are going, they say they are going to college," Dr Thomson says.

He finds there is considerable publicity and media coverage about colleges locally, where people understand what they do, but the same sense does not exist at national level. "We still have a way to go in reminding people," Dr Thomson says.

Colleges are particularly irked about the term "further education", which can be particularly confusing and inaccurate since they deliver 30 per cent of higher education in Scotland.

"We have had reductivist descriptions of what we do, which diminishes the sector," Dr Thomson says. "We have to get around the confusion where institutional structures are seen as the same as different levels of work, FE in colleges and HE in the universities."

The advent of Scotland's Colleges is also intended to underline the new spirit of collaboration. "It is now 12 years since incorporation, with each college being seen to declare UDI," Dr Thomson commented. "We are now coming out of that and want to describe a more collective approach.

Colleges will still operate in a businesslike way, but a great deal of what we do is collaborative - whether it's the literacy agenda, special needs, skills development, economic development, partnerships in our local communities and, of course, links between colleges."

Dr Thomson believes that the most powerful impact of the rebranding initiative will be felt abroad; his own college will be sending a delegation to China and India next year. "What we are essentially selling internationally is Scottish education," he says.

Tony Jakimciw, principal of Dumfries and Galloway college and chair of the FE principals' forum, said: "Our wish to be known as Scotland's Colleges reflects the importance we place on our collective responsibility to respond to the skills and lifelong learning agenda at the heart of the nation's economic strategy."

The arrival of the new merged funding council for colleges and universities next Monday will provide another incentive to raise the profile of Scotland's Colleges. Principals fear further confusion about where different levels of work take place in what will be a huge pound;1 billion sector.

Consultations undertaken by the principals' forum of the Association of Scottish Colleges suggest that "colleges are the friendly face of post-school education and training". As MSPs were told on Tuesday: "They are approachable and accessible, and are particularly important players in the quest to promote education for everyone, particularly those from disadvantaged areas."

The colleges believe that, "perhaps uniquely in the education sector, (they) can claim customer focus as a source of strength".

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