Scotland takes it easy
The task of establishing efficient management information systems has caused few headaches in Scotland's colleges. Since incorporation, the Scottish Office for Education has selected and supplied further education establishments north of the border with a system and picked up the bill - leaving colleges to get on with curriculum matters in relative peace.
As a result, fewer than one in three colleges reported the problem of too much manual work, alongside the computerised information, when compiling records. However, while many have made a firm commitment to information technology, few have established a college-wide strategy or plan and are biting this bullet much more slowly than their counterparts in England and Wales.
Martin Fairbairn, director of finance and management information systems at Stevenson College, Edinburgh, said: "We are taking things as they come. Strategies have been subservient to getting incorporation out of the way and finding our feet."
Like their English counterparts, the Scottish colleges predicted a move towards more independent learning by students and greater use of IT in the curriculum and learning resource and drop-in centres, not only for registered students but also the wider community.
Stevenson College had a well-equipped central learning centre attached to its library, complete with CD-Rom and learning resource manager, and had invested approximately Pounds 100,000 in IT in the past year.
The increasing use of IT presented further education colleges with "the potential for the most enormous revolution," according to Peter Bates, head of IT at West Lothian College.
He said: "We recognise there is potential for using information highways for distance and independent learning. We have looked at but not yet invested in the various ways this can be done."
Though the nature of work and study in FE faced the possibility of enormous change, at present, he said "most of our students are not sufficiently computer literate".
Again, as in England and Wales, some of the smallest colleges appeared to be the most entrepreneurial in earning cash fees from conferences and courses and making successful bids for European funds.
One small college boasts the best ratio of machines to people (one-to-four) anywhere in the United Kingdom. It has just spent Pounds 40,000 upgrading the equipment.