Now college upheaval is on the cards

17th February 2012 at 00:00

Last week we looked at shared services across education authorities; this week it's shared services across the college sector - all, of course, influenced by the same recession.

It's early days for Russel Griggs' vision of how Scotland's colleges should be run. It was published only a couple of weeks ago and the consultation doesn't end until next Friday. But already it is clear what the principals think of it: "kick in the teeth" and "I hope to God it isn't (going ahead)" are the responses that spring to mind (News Focus, pages 12-15).

If they are angry, hostile and worried about the future, it's easy to understand why. These people have worked hard since the incorporation of colleges in 1993 to run them as successful businesses catering for local needs and a changing workforce. Then along comes Professor Griggs who would like to see "a Scottish plan" for things like shared services; 41 individual colleges merged into 12 regional ones; excess profits taken away from them; staff salaries decided nationally, and principals not even allowed to sit on the college board, on the grounds that they are employees.

Suddenly, it's as if their businesses are being taken away from them and they are being "punished", as one put it, for their success.

No one would disagree with Professor Griggs that provision is patchy, but there have been outstanding cases, reported in TESS, of colleges collaborating with local schools and employers, and providing support for vulnerable youngsters who have dropped out of secondary and risked facing the prospect of eternal unemployment. That work must not be jeopardised.

Regionalisation was already on the cards with four different approaches proposed by the Scottish government - merger, federation, "lead" college and collaboration. From the north-east's federation model of Aberdeen and Banff and Buchan colleges, to the west coast's merger of James Watt, Reid Kerr and Clydebank, senior managers have been striving to find local solutions and deliver what the government wanted.

Now it smacks more of nationalisation, with Griggs saying: "Regionalisation must involve the `merger' (through whatever route) of all the incorporated colleges within that region."

It's a dramatic solution and it's surprising, as some say, that costings are not included. But more importantly, how much upheaval can an education system cope with at one time? Is it not enough that schools and colleges are struggling with a radical new curriculum and exams programme (page 6), fighting to keep young people off dole queues, and that the future of local authorities is up in the air?

In the TESS Interview last July, Professor Griggs said: "My aim would be that at the end of this, hopefully, a student may never know that the review has gone on." Sadly, that now looks highly unlikely.

Gillian Macdonald, Editor of the year (business and professional).

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