Griggs 'surprised' if colleges spend their own reserves

24th February 2012 at 00:00
The decision would mean `we picked the wrong chairs of colleges', he says

The architect of a plan to regionalise Scotland's colleges has said he would be "disappointed and surprised" if individual colleges rushed to spend their own financial reserves, rather than turning them over for national use.

Russel Griggs, whose review of the governance of further education colleges has split opinion, defended his plan for making them hand all financial reserves over 10 per cent of annual revenue back to a national pot.

He told the Scottish Parliament's education committee that if colleges did rush to use up their own savings to prevent them being used elsewhere, that would mean "we picked the wrong people to be chairs of colleges".

College chairs should want to be part of the conversation on how FE works in Scotland, said Professor Griggs, who is chair of Dumfries and Galloway College.

"There has to be a balance between what is good for the student across Scotland and what is good for your own area," he said.

Under questioning from Conservative MSP Liz Smith, he denied that his report recommended that regional college board chairs should be picked by government ministers - he simply wanted their appointments endorsed.

"If you are going to get into a situation where you want a strategic forum to work together, where government and colleges are bound together, then actually knowing that you have this odd little link between government and college chairmen is very important," he said.

Professor Griggs' review, published last month, contains some key recommendations: restructuring of Scotland's 41 colleges into bodies run by 12 regional boards; the creation of a strategic forum; a return to national pay-bargaining; and all reserves that exceed 10 per cent of annual revenue to be used for the betterment of the sector overall.

Certain parts of Scotland had already moved to a wider form of governance, such as Forth Valley and Fife colleges, he said. Northern Ireland was also a model for a more strategic approach, added Professor Griggs.

"If you focus your resources in a specific geographical area on a specific subject, you get much better work than if you disseminate it across a lot of different areas," he said.

Renewable energy was a case in point - there had to be a national discussion about where to locate a centre of excellence in that discipline, he said.

To fears that the creation of regional centres of excellence would put off students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, Professor Griggs responded: "As long as you allow them to come into the local college to do what they want, that's fine. As people want to move up the ladder, all the evidence suggests that retention is not an issue."

elizabeth.buie@tess.co.uk.

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