The three regional strategic bodies governing college provision in Glasgow, Lanarkshire and the Highlands and Islands are “not tenable”, the Scottish Funding Council has said.
The regional body in Lanarkshire should be dissolved, the SFC said, while Glasgow should look at alternative organisational options, and the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) should consider consolidation and shared services, according to the SFC.
The restructuring of the Scottish college sector in 2013 created 13 college regions, most with only one, large college in them. However, because that merger process was voluntary, three regions opted for a model involving a regional strategic body governing a number of colleges – two in Lanarkshire, three in Glasgow, and 13 in the Highlands and Islands.
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The phase one report of the Review of Coherent Provision and Sustainability was published this morning, and the SFC said the running of the three bodies “often involve tensions in governance and accountability structures, contested costs and funding authority, and unclear outcome gains for students and taxpayers”.
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Glasgow, in particular, has attracted controversy since its inception, with its early years being marred by reports of high costs to the three colleges. The SFC said today that the Glasgow Colleges Regional Board (GCRB) was “meeting its core statutory requirements and has made good progress in delivering additional benefits through regionalisation”.
However, “that said, there are still mixed views within the assigned bodies themselves about the additional value being added by the RSB and the cumbersome nature of the four-board arrangement” – ie, the boards of the assigned colleges – Kelvin, Clyde and City of Glasgow – alongside the regional board.
The SFC said: “Agreeing the funding allocations across the three colleges remains challenging for GCRB, despite an efficient approach. Operating within tight timescales following SFC funding allocation decisions and negotiating agreement on key issues between four boards and senior managers has been time-consuming and difficult at times.”
It concluded that now was “an appropriate stage in its development for GCRB to begin conversations about further reformation of the structures in Glasgow that will facilitate the continued effective and efficient delivery of education and skills for the region. We recommend GCRB and the colleges explore other organisational options that build on and secure pan-regional planning, further efficiency gains, the financial viability of the constituent colleges, and a Glasgow front door for students, employers and other stakeholders. This should include options that may lead to reformation of the regional structure, and further consolidation that will fulfil regional and policy objectives.”
The funding council said that despite best endeavours, the current governance arrangements in Lanarkshire, where the RSB governs New College Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire College, are “not well understood or accepted, and lead to constant friction”. “They distract both colleges from their main missions for students and economic recovery."
The SFC calls for them to be dissolved and “both colleges manage themselves as separate regional entities, forming a direct relationship with SFC”. “For clarity, we also encourage both colleges to continue to be part of appropriate education, skills and economic recovery regional planning, and to build useful collaborations together or with other partners, and to foster strong economic planning partnerships at a Lanarkshire and wider Glasgow level.”
The UHI existed before regionalisation, but was established as the RSB in August 2014. However, the SFC said it was still to realise its full potential and deliver the significant wider aims of regionalisation, including curriculum planning, driving further regional coherence, strategic alignment and enhanced offers for students and stakeholders.
“We recommend UHI considers consolidation, shared services, recalibrated roles and responsibilities, and options to ensure it survives and thrives, and gets closer to the original mission of a more fully integrated tertiary institution.”
Karen Watt, SFC chief executive, said: “Reforms to Scotland’s colleges helped provide a greater regional presence and an enhanced role to meet the needs of learners, businesses and local communities. Audit Scotland recommended that the Scottish Funding Council undertake a review of regional strategic bodies for the three remaining multi-college regions to assess and report publicly on the extent to which they are meeting their objectives. This report addresses that recommendation.
“We have concluded that while there have been many positive outcomes, we have recommended changes, based on an analysis of how the strategic bodies have performed since their establishment in 2014, in order to better meet the needs of students, communities and the regional economy.
“We will work with the Scottish government and with the regional strategic bodies on next steps.”
A spokesperson for GCRB said: "We have received the Scottish Funding Council's report and welcome its recognition of the positive progress made in the Glasgow college region. We look forward to working closely with Glasgow Clyde, City of Glasgow and Glasgow Kelvin colleges on next steps and taking forward the report's recommendations."
A spokesperson for the Lanarkshire board said: “The Lanarkshire board has recognised for some time that the arrangements put in place through the Lanarkshire Order 2014 have not led to the regional benefits that we might have anticipated. Therefore, over the past few months we have had discussions with the Scottish Funding Council about options for fundamental structural change. The report provides some clarity on the SFC’s observations and conclusions for the future administration of both colleges. The proposed change to the regional structure offers the opportunity for both colleges to flourish independently. The development of new arrangements will undoubtedly present new challenges, but NCL, as one of the largest colleges in Scotland, will participate positively to make sure these new arrangements are successful.”