Glasgow is not the problem but the solution;Commentary;Opinion

24th April 1998 at 01:00
In the late 1980s the chairman of the Strathclyde further education sub-committee was heard gleefully describing a merger of two Glasgow colleges as "perestroika without the glasnost".

Some time later, just after incorporation in fact, a Scottish Office assistant secretary referred to the Glasgow "solution" as "Four Funerals and a Wedding".

Both these perspectives see Glasgow's FE as a problem based on the premise that 10 colleges and a diminishing population just don't add up to value for money.

The idea that there is a Glasgow problem lives on. Civil serpents, as they are colloquially known in the Second City, are now openly rejecting capital proposals and other initiatives until Glasgow FE has been sorted out.

But not for the first time, the Minister is streets ahead of his officials. In The TESS (March 27) Brian Wilson gave four examples of best practice in FE's "new direction", two of them from Glasgow.

He knows the figures he will present to Parliament show unit costs of Glasgow FE are 7 per cent more efficient than the Scottish average, but the city still receives 9 per cent less funding. This does not include the little multi-million pound nuggets set aside by the previous administration like the Stirling Centre, the University of the Highlands and Islands project and the new Livingston college.

To be fair, the Scottish Office has provided part funding for both the Glasgow Community Colleges Group and the Glasgow Telecolleges Network - Brian Wilson's best practice examples.

The GCCG achievements are impressive: savings from collaborative tenders, influence with key decision makers, partnerships with the important learning and development agencies, successful joint funding bids, work with the city council on Higher Still and adult education, firm agreements with all the city's universities and a wide range of staff working groups covering all aspects of college operations.

Likewise, the Glasgow Telecolleges Network is developing into an exciting force at the bleeding edge of Scottish FE - an example of what can be achieved with low additional funding through the determined collaboration of all 10 Glasgow colleges. GTN is a fast high bandwidth multimedia educational network which can deliver learning at 10 times the speed of earlier developments in Scotland and at a tenth of the cost. This paragon of value for money is unique in British FE.

Ironically, English further education is presently at war with itself. Urban colleges say they require more money to meet the challenges of urban deprivation, while there is a full scale assault on the London colleges' weightings, which assume that London is a special case.

I'm sure this will end in tears, but I hope it doesn't.

In Scottish FE the issues are much less complex. True, there may be a special Glasgow case based on high levels of poverty, social exclusion and historical underfunding. But the Glasgow colleges do not want special treatment. Our view is that Glasgow FE is not the problem, it's the solution - more glasnost than perestroika, more weddings than funerals.

Graeme Hyslop is the depute principal of Langside College in Glasgow and a member of the Educational Institute of Scotland. He writes in a personal capacity.

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