New advanced levels of apprenticeships, equivalent to ordinary and honours university degrees, are being introduced this year to help young people find work, the education secretary has announced.
Michael Russell told the Scottish Parliament he was extending the modern apprenticeship scheme to create new technical and professional apprenticeships as part of a number of reforms to the post-16 education sector.
He also announced plans to legislate to widen access to university and repeated a commitment to promote wider use of the Scottish Baccalaureate and Advanced Higher.
Details of his widening access plans have yet to be fleshed out, with the government report on responses to its post-16 reforms stating only that there "mixed views on the introduction of statutory quotas or statutory widening access agreements".
He said he would work with the Scottish Funding Council and NUS Scotland to take forward a report on improving articulation from school, and publish new guidance for community learning and development.
"My intention is to refocus our existing systems so they are driven by the needs of learners, not by the needs of institutions," said Mr Russell.
The reforms, which follow the government's consultation on post-16 reform, "Putting Learners at the Centre", would go "hand in hand" with college regionalisation, Mr Russell said.
"Over the coming year, our programme of reform will gain pace: we shall move to a redistribution of resource based on needs; we shall develop outcome agreements with our new regions; and, many colleges will continue with plans to merge - because they think that is the right thing to do."
Earlier this week, the education secretary met college principals and chairs to discuss future plans. Principals told TESS after the meeting that Mr Russell had spoken in favour of accepting the Griggs review on college governance in principle - it proposes the creation of 12 college regions governed by regional boards instead of 41 institutions.
They said Mr Russell had questioned some recommendations in the report published earlier this year, such as a requirement that all institutions within the proposed regions enter into formal mergers; and the revised role of the principal.
Mr Russell told them he could envisage "meaningful federations", with a central strategy and regional voice, centrally-allocated resources and shared services.
Contrary to Russel Griggs' vision of a single pan-Glasgow college, Mr Russell spoke in favour of three colleges for the city, to better account for the diversity of its college student cohort.
STUDENTS TO JOIN DISCUSSIONS ON FUNDING
Student representatives will join discussions with the government and the Scottish Funding Council on how the distribution of student support could be improved.
First Minister Alex Salmond announced that NUS Scotland would have a say in how to spend the pound;95 million student support package for 2012-13 during a visit to Langside College last week.
"We've long argued for moves to reach a form of entitlement for college students, ensuring that they have clarity of how much they can expect to receive. Anything less leaves them at too great a risk of not being able to support themselves and dropping out," said NUS Scotland president Robin Parker.