Big change afoot: 41 colleges reduced to 12 areas

3rd February 2012 at 00:00
New groupings and experts' reviews into governance prove controversial

Scotland's 41 colleges are to be reduced to 12 regional areas, each likely to be led by a single controlling board.

One of the most controversial of the groupings, confirmed by education secretary Michael Russell this week to Parliament, will be the creation of a single Glasgow region. The tripartite merger of the year-old City of Glasgow College was fraught with difficulties but now a further six may have to be accommodated.

Michael Russell also announced the publication on Wednesday of the review into college governance by Russel Griggs and a parallel review of higher education governance by Ferdinand von Prondzynski, principal of Robert Gordon University.

Professor Griggs' proposals would hand back greater control to central government. Any financial reserves exceeding 10 per cent should be handed over to the government, while major capital projects in the FE sector would also be decided centrally.

The EIS has welcomed a proposal that colleges make a return to national pay bargaining.

Neither the Griggs nor the von Prondzynski reviews considered the University of the Highlands and Islands in detail. But Mr Russell announced moves to change its governance arrangements to create a "genuinely integrated structure for all post-16 learning" in the area.

The Griggs report stresses the need to increase the accountability of chairs and boards through an "outcome-based" approach with regular audits, and a direct link between each chair and the education secretary.

There should be 12 single regional boards, each with up to 12 members, and a chair's appointment endorsed by the education secretary, he recommends.

No college should be allowed to opt out from the merger, says the Griggs review. As TESS reported last week, the regionalisation process in at least one area has already run into problems - only three out of four colleges in Lanarkshire are currently working together.

Professor Griggs found a lack of cohesion and significant inequalities in areas ranging from financial reserves, attainment and student retention to local deprivation. He concluded there had been a lack of direction from the government.

To increase cohesion and equity, he calls for the creation of an "FE strategic forum" that would provide a "central core of direction", leadership and guidance.

Chaired by the education secretary, its membership would include the regional chairs, staff and student representatives, the chairs of Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council, and representatives of the university and schools sectors.

julia.belgutay@tess.co.uk.

Original headline: Big change afoot: 41 colleges will be reduced to just 12 regional areas

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