FE reforms are 'regressive', say former principals

5th April 2013 at 01:00
And poorer students are at a disadvantage, they argue in their open letter

The Scottish government's reforms of the further education sector are "regressive" and will disadvantage students from the poorest communities, two former college principals have warned.

In an open letter to education secretary Michael Russell, Graeme Hyslop and Ian Graham, the former principals of Langside and John Wheatley colleges in Glasgow, say they fear the restructuring will cause a "radical shift in resourcing post-school education in Scotland from very poor areas to relatively much better-off communities".

Generations of excluded adults and young people have effectively been failed by the Scottish education system - and now the communities in which they live are to be deprived of the resources their colleges need, they write.

The Scottish Funding Council's proposed budget for the next academic session confirmed that "deeper and asymmetric cuts will be made, based on a crude demographic calculus and not based on need", they say.

This "ushers the end of fairness in college sector funding and flies in the face of the Scottish government's stated central ethos", they add.

As former Glasgow principals, they were deeply concerned that there were above-average reductions planned for colleges in Glasgow and a transfer of resources to other regions.

"These reductions will occur when the participation rates in higher education continue to be lower than national norms in most of the city's communities and where historic deficits in qualifications remain a central feature in local labour markets," the letter continues.

The two former principals also question the government's commitment to maintaining local provision.

Its creation of regional "centres of excellence" to provide courses at "entry-level" could, they warn, "discourage the most excluded, least confident learners from participating in post-school education".

"How will this diminution be reconciled against the principles of Curriculum for Excellence and its central notion of community citizenship?" the two principals ask.

A Scottish government spokesman said: "The Scottish government is currently overseeing the most progressive changes to the college sector in 20 years. The needs of learners are at the heart of everything we have done and plan to do, and moves towards regionalisation and full-time courses for young people will give them the best possible chance of finding a job at the end of their studies."

Change is possible

Education secretary Michael Russell has told the Scottish Parliament's education committee that ministers could set up alternative arrangements to run the University of the Highlands and Islands if the arrangements currently agreed do not "live up to expectations".

Plans on the future structure and governance of the institution, drawn up last year by a working group led by Dr Michael Foxley, chair of West Highland College UHI, have been broadly welcomed by Mr Russell.

These would lead to UHI becoming a single fundable body with the authority for FE funding devolved to a committee of the UHI Court. Two new associate principal posts would also be created to provide a voice for further education and research and specialist institutions.

"While I have no reason to doubt that UHI will follow the recommendations of the working group, let me be absolutely clear: if the arrangements in the Highlands and Islands do not match my expectations, it would be possible under the bill for ministers to set up alternative arrangements in the region," Mr Russell told the Parliament's education committee.

Ministers could establish a regional management board instead of having UHI act as the strategic body, he added in response to the committee's report on the post-16 education bill, published last month.

julia.belgutay@tess.co.uk.

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