College principals have warned that too much control and bureaucracy could stand in the way of the sector benefiting from regionalisation.
Colleges could also lose their ability to react to the changing needs of learners and the local economy, four college leaders told the Scottish parliament's education committee this week.
Cardonald College principal and future principal of Clyde College Glasgow, Susan Walsh, said that more clarity was needed on the detail of the bill with regards to multi-college regions, and an "additional layer of bureaucracy" had to be avoided.
More work was required on the outcome agreements colleges sign with the Scottish Funding Council to ensure colleges remained autonomous and responsive, she added.
No one in the room disputed the idea that high-level outcome agreements were useful as a means of ensuring colleges' accountability, but the "10 measures and 29 indicators" in Cardonald's current agreement ran the risk of impacting upon its autonomy as an institution, Mrs Walsh said.
It was also crucial to account for the varying characteristics of each region, argued Mandy Exley, principal of Edinburgh College.
Her college supported regionalisation, and coherence across a region could benefit learners, but too much government control might lead to unintended consequences, she said. It was also possible to "meet the target and miss the point", she said.
The principals also gave striking examples of how the massive cuts to their budgets had already had an impact on provision at their colleges. In addition to a reduction in staffing, learning support had been cut significantly, said Mrs Walsh.
Ms Exley said class sizes had increased at Edinburgh College, as had "what I would call productivity and what staff would call hard work".
Part-time provision had been cut at Dumfries and Galloway College, said principal Carol Turnbull. Banff and Buchan College had seen part-time courses reduce and two outreach centres close, added its principal, Paul Sherrington.
Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said the committee had heard "powerful evidence which suggested that the post-16 bill could 'short-change students' because it would hinder the flexibility within course development and not allow colleges to be sufficiently responsive to the demands of their local communities and local economies".
THE COST OF COLLEGE BOARDS
The setting up of new regional college boards will cost #163;560,000 per board per annum, Scottish government officials told MSPs on the finance committee last week.
Other costs associated with the post-16 education bill will include those arising from the creation of a new power for the Scottish Funding Council to review colleges' provision of further and higher education and remove duplication.
A further cost of #163;52,000 has been associated with a requirement to share data with Skills Development Scotland, said Michael Cross, deputy director for colleges.
MSPs scrutinising the financial memorandum to the bill were told that the government did not expect additional costs to arise from its provisions on higher education governance, on widening access or on tuition fees.
But Universities Scotland had told the committee the additional cost of educating widening access students was #163;2,325 per student per annum.
Tracey Slaven, deputy director for higher education and learner support, said outreach and retention were already funded to the tune of #163;25 million per annum by the SFC and Universities Scotland's figure was based on English data from 2002.