Discussions abound in Scotland about the structure of tertiary and, more specifically, further education. We all want to make our much-valued services even more relevant and sustainable in these austere times.
In every region, colleges are working with partners in and beyond the sector to identify better ways of doing things. If ever there was a time to recognise and use more effectively the added value we may each have occasionally closeted and coveted, this is it.
Ayr College hosted a shared CPD (continuing professional development) event last month on behalf of the Ayrshire Learning Partnership. ALP was established a year or so ago by the three Ayrshire colleges - Ayr, Kilmarnock and the Kilwinning annexe of James Watt - as a framework, a catalyst, for collaborative ventures.
The different cultural contexts, structures and challenges we each face meant that our partnership activity moved tentatively at times as we learned about each other. But last month we stepped boldly forward to present to each other what we knew to be our best practices.
The colleges presented workshops on Curriculum for Excellence, The Quality of Learning and Teaching, and Learner Engagement. Our objective was not to promote some idealised notion of how something could best be done; it was to exemplify how different approaches have been taken to achieve a similar aim, but with the explicit prospect that together we could create more effective practice in Ayrshire.
Colleagues started the day surreptitiously scribbling notes, shyly questioning whether it was OK to "snaffle" an idea. We soon got into our stride, however, and made full use of the opportunity to take resources away and, most importantly, to begin a professional dialogue on how we could collectively build on initial ideas to develop them.
At the end of a long and difficult year, there is nothing more rejuvenating than participating in CPD where you can see the sparks bouncing from one colleague and one college to another.
Having had this experience, I now wonder why we are not all doing it more often. When you want to get beyond the rhetoric, the governance, the protocols and structures, when you get to the heart of the matter, as we have in Ayrshire, you realise again that it's all about the students.
And if a partnership progresses productively and genuinely on this priority, and at a pace that achieves added value to the experience of students, it will always work.
Diane Rawlinson, College principal
Diane Rawlinson is principal and chief executive of Ayr College.