More than pound;370,000 is being diverted from Glasgow's colleges to pay for a controversial regional management board set up by former first minister Henry McLeish, TESS can reveal.
The annual running costs for the Glasgow Colleges' Regional Board (GCRB), which oversees the city's three colleges, have been criticised as "extravagant" by the NUS Scotland students' union. The EIS teaching union said justification was needed for money being spent on an additional layer of "management bureaucracy" rather than students.
Mr McLeish, who chairs the board, said the 2015 costs resulted from the "unique nature of regionalisation" in the city.
The GCRB was planning to present an alternative funding plan to the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) next week in order to prevent cash being "taken from the teaching budgets of any of the colleges" in the future, he added.
The GCRB was formally established last year to take responsibility for further education (FE) in Glasgow. In response to a request by TESS under the Freedom of Information Act, the SFC said that the estimated running cost for the board for the 2015 calendar year was pound;376,615.
Until the end of last year, the board was paid for by the SFC. Currently, however, it takes its funding equally from the three Glasgow colleges: Clyde, Kelvin and City of Glasgow. This means that between January and July this year the colleges will have to fork out more than pound;73,000 each from their core funding to cover the board's expenses, including staffing and rent for its offices in Glasgow Caledonian University.
Exactly how the costs will be divided from August onwards has not yet been decided. "Based on our understanding of the currently planned budget, our view is that [the overall level of funding for the board] is reasonable," an SFC spokesman said.
But student and teacher representatives expressed concern that the money spent on the board - about 0.5 per cent of the city's annual FE budget - would be taken away from front-line provision.
NUS Scotland president Gordon Maloney described the GCRB's funding as "extravagant by any standards".
"Regionalisation promised bigger, stronger and more efficient colleges, with improvements for students," he said. "However, when we know there are significant pressures on colleges to deliver improved outcomes, and staff are still having to fight for fair pay, many people will rightly question whether these costs show value for money.
"The Glasgow board seriously needs to question the purpose or value this much money will provide, when every available penny of funding for colleges should be spent ensuring student experience and support is protected and improved, and what the perception among students will be."
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, which represents college staff, said: "Lecturers would be concerned at the high cost and will be looking for a justification as to why that level of management bureaucracy is required."
Any governance body had to be "efficient and effective", he added, and the budget outlined for Glasgow seemed to be "a very significant cost" given that each of the three colleges also had its own level of management.
Glasgow is one of only three multi-college regions to come out of the government's regionalisation process in the FE sector, and is the only case where a separate governance structure has been set up.
In Lanarkshire, one of the other regions with more than one FE institution, the board of New College Lanarkshire also serves as the board for the region. In comparison, its estimated budget for 2015 is pound;28,000 - less than a tenth of the GCRB's.
Mr McLeish told TESS the "unique nature of regionalisation in Glasgow means that a new independent board and infrastructure [had] to be created". But teaching resources should not be affected as a result. "This is not happening in any other region so it makes little sense for this to happen in a city that needs more front-line investment, not less," he said
With the support of the three Glasgow colleges, the GCRB will next week consider a paper that "presents the SFC with new options for financing the regional board", Mr McLeish added.
"Our joint report, if approved by the regional board, will give the SFC the opportunity to respond to the new Glasgow," he said. "The remarkable achievements of the board in such a short period of time allow us now to move forward on a number of education and learning fronts.
"Regardless of how the budget is eventually structured, the drive at regional level will always be about being as efficient as possible."
Anger as principal suspended
Further education in Glasgow has hit the headlines in recent weeks after the suspension of Glasgow Clyde College principal Susan Walsh and the subsequent conflict between student representatives and the chair of the college's board.
Earlier this week, the student association passed a vote of no confidence in the chair, George Chalmers, and urged the Glasgow Colleges' Regional Board to take action over his handling of the issue.