Colleges advised to emulate business world, not schools
College education should be less "like school" and more like "businesses out there in society", according to Willy Roe, author of last year's Review of Post-16 Education and Vocational Training in Scotland.
The FE sector's purpose of getting people ready for work was in many cases hampered by long-established "Victorian" rules, such as structuring classes by age, he told a conference on "The Learner Journey" in Edinburgh last week.
It made no sense, he said, for apprenticeships and courses to take a set amount of time, regardless of a student's ability.
His research for the government-commissioned review had led him to conclude that in many cases, post-16 education was "mediocre".
But he picked out one college in Scotland (which he declined to identify) for having completely restructured its provision and made it "all about performance".
"Most of the things they do now, they do in 60 or 70 per cent of the time it previously took," he said.
Every college department should emulate its practice and set up a "business board", made up of leading business people in that field who would be required to sign off their part of the curriculum before it could happen, he advocated.
At that college, "all of the young people were in part-time employment in the sector they were training for", because of the college's close ties with businesses. This gave employers a vested interest in the students, and the young people a foot in the door.
The former chair of Skills Development Scotland urged Scottish colleges to look beyond the borders of Scotland for fresh ideas, especially in the light of their recent budget cuts.
A college in Milwaukee, visited as part of his post-16 review, was open 52 weeks of the year, six days a week and staff there worked in two shifts to allow students access from early in the morning until late in the evening, he told the conference.
"What is the rationale for the days, weeks and hours a college should be open? Is it led by lecturer contracts?" he asked.
And in Austria, to ensure staff stayed connected to the workforce in their industry, all college lecturers worked one half of the year in their institutions and the other half in their industry, he added.
"Would we not want all the people who work in the system to have an exceptionally good connection to the economy out there in Scotland?" he asked.