The body that aims to speak for Scotland's further education colleges has been hit by the defection of Aberdeen College.
It emerged this week that the college, Scotland's largest with a total income last year of more than pound;24 million, has become the first to pull out of the Association of Scottish Colleges, taking its pound;8,000 membership subscription with it. No other colleges have so far indicated they intend going it alone.
Rae Angus, Aberdeen's principal, said: "As a large college, many of the services which ASC provides we provide for ourselves and at a time of financial stringency when we have to satisfy ourselves that every penny is well spent we felt this was the right decision to take."
The college is also parting company with Scotland's Polytechnic Group, a loose consortium of colleges geared largely to providing higher education courses. The combined saving for Aberdeen will be pound;18,000 which, Mr Angus observed, "would go a long way towards paying a lecturer's salary".
The decision was greeted with dismay by Tom Kelly, the ASC's chief officer, who said it was important for colleges to keep a collective unity to continue pressure on the Government to fund the sector more generously. The college could enjoy "a free ride due to the efforts of others", Mr Kelly said, but the association's door remained open.
Aberdeen's move partially reflects the fact that large colleges especially now have the expertise in staff negotiations, personnel, legal matters and financial services which the employers' organisation used to provide. Mr Kelly describes the ASC's role as seeking to exert influence on behalf of FE rather than delivering services. It has made increased funding for the colleges its key objective but Bob Kay, the association's chairman, was forced to admit that the Scottish Office grant for the coming year is pound;2.1 million down on this year.
Mr Kelly said enhancing the profile of FE was "a long-term business for which we need the contribution of all colleges".