It's down to colleges to pick up the bill

2nd August 2013 at 01:00

This week was another historic one for Scotland's further education sector with the arrival of four new regional colleges - all officially launched yesterday. They are the first to have come formally into existence since the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill was passed. They show the direction the sector is taking and will guide the way into a new future.

Those starting their courses at these new institutions in the coming weeks will miss out on calling themselves students of the old, established colleges named after influential Scots such as Adam Smith and Andrew Carnegie. Instead, they will walk into the prosaic new brands of Glasgow Clyde College, Fife College, West College Scotland and Ayrshire College - names that merely give a geographic indication of their location.

This may not be all bad, however. This week, TESS offers an insight into the college names that the sector narrowly missed out on - such as ACDC or G-Col, more likely to evoke images of ageing rock stars than successful young students and world-class teaching.

And although little inspiration can be drawn from the new names, it will be up to the new institutions, their leadership teams and, of course, their students to forge new identities for their colleges and fill the brands with meaning.

The new colleges were not the only changes in the sector in recent weeks - the passing of the post-16 bill itself may be the most notable one. This provides the legislative framework not only for college regionalisation, but also for issues that go right to the heart of what colleges and universities in Scotland aim to provide - opportunities for their students.

Widening access and articulation between colleges and universities has to be at the very core of this, and although the post-16 bill makes a start here, much more work is yet to be done. It also remains to be seen how the need for colleges to organise themselves in a regional set-up will affect access to entry-level courses for students in the longer term.

The current bill was markedly different from the one originally conceived. Hundreds of amendments were proposed and many passed, although the government and opposition accused each other of being unwilling to compromise.

The SNP had "refused to accept opposition amendments and calls from other parties to delay the bill were ignored," Labour's Neil Findlay told parliament, and education secretary Michael Russell hit back, calling Mr Findlay the "master of grandstanding".

Political posturing aside, students and colleges felt that some positive changes to the legislation were achieved during the process. But whether or not the bill as it stands can live up to all it promised is still in the balance.

As so often in education, it will be up to teachers, support staff and educationalists to make it work, whatever happens.

Julia Belgutay, TESS reporter, julia.belgutay@tess.co.uk.

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