But millions are needed to sustain college development
THE REPORTS from the long-awaited review of Scotland's colleges (known as Rosco) were finally published this week after two years' deliberation - and concluded that they were doing a good job and could do even better with more money.
But the review, although a key plank of the FE sector's case to be favourably treated in the Scottish Executive's forthcoming spending plans, failed to come up with any firm figures on what annual spending in the sector should be.
It warns that, with employers calling for action on skills gaps and more pupils attending college through Skills for Work courses, the "unrelenting"
demands on colleges will increase - and these will have to be financed.
"We suggest there are very sound economic and social reasons for the funded expansion of the college sector," the report states. "Colleges can do much more, and they can do more, better."
Those carrying out the review, who were drawn from a wide range of "stakeholders", costed specific one-off requirements, such as the Pounds 400-pound;450 million they believe is necessary to clear the backlog of capital investment. But they did not put a timeframe on it. The review added that, after buildings are brought up to standard, pound;45 million a year must be spent to keep them that way.
Also, the report suggested that an additional pound;33 million should be spent on continuing professional development for college staff over three years, with a minimum of six days a year spent on these activities. Another pound;16 million is needed over the same period to train new lecturers.
Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, gave a non-committal welcome to the review and would only say she would "respond in due course and articulate how Scotland's colleges can help turn our plans for a learning nation into practice".
The review made a straight plea to the minister: "Scotland needs more college places". It added: "The lives of many more people could be transformed if they were given the right encouragement and support to go to college."
It also did its best to get into the minister's good books by underlining that, in supporting businesses and individuals, colleges were well-placed to help implement the SNP executive's priorities - to make Scotland smarter, wealthier, fairer, safer, stronger and greener.
The review reminded the minister that one of its early pieces of work found, for every pound;1 invested in FE, there was a return of pound;3.20 to the economy. Ms Hyslop has already said that this was probably a "very conservative" estimate.
The review recognises that colleges cannot do it all themselves. It says:
"We envisage that colleges will have to work with other organisations, such as employers and other education and training bodies, and with each other, over the years ahead. This will be a challenge."
On the key question of how well colleges are run, the report endorsed the conclusion of research carried out for it by DTZ consultants, that "in general, the standard of accountability and governance in Scotland's colleges is good", although "practice has ranged from 'average' to 'very good' and indeed 'exemplary' in some cases."
The report added: "When isolated problems arise in individual colleges, there is perhaps too much of a temptation to generalise about arrangements in the college sector as a whole. Things will inevitably go wrong in some college at some point - this is true of all institutions. That is not in itself a sign of governance failure."
Having spent two years considering every aspect of colleges' work, Rosco concluded that the Scottish Executive should have another look to consider "the positioning and key roles of colleges and other stakeholders with an interest in the tertiary sector, and develop regulatory and funding regimes to support this".