Scots funders look to Wales

16th October 1998 at 01:00
The unique system in Wales in which one body funds the further and higher education councils has been commended to Scotland by its chief executive. But Professor John Andrews warned that "enormous problems" could be created by a single chief executive reporting to two chairs.

Professor Andrews, delivering the latest in the series of lectures run by the Scottish Further Education Unit, confessed he had been "lucky" to have worked with supportive chairs.

The Welsh chief, who is responsible for spending Pounds 416 million on 29 FE and 13 HE institutions, was speaking a few months before the formal establishment in January of a Scottish Further Education Funding Council, largely based on the Welsh model (which is also being recommended for Northern Ireland).

The Scottish council will have its own chair and between 11-14 members, who have until next Friday to apply. But it will share its chief executive with the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council. Professor John Sizer will have an ex-officio seat on both councils.

The FE council will be supported by 40 staff, many of whom will transfer from the Scottish Office FE funding division. It calculates and disburses the existing Pounds 290 million Government grant to the colleges and will also do so for 1999-2000.

But there will be differences between the Scottish and Welsh structures, Professor Andrews pointed out. In Scotland, there is intended to be "a significant element of common membership" between the FE and HE councils. In Wales, he is the only link between the two, which the Scottish colleges believe could be too heavy a responsibility.

Another critical difference is that the Welsh councils, like their two separate English counterparts, fund FE or HE wherever each is to be found. The HE council, for example, supports HE in both colleges and universities. The Scottish FE council will fund all activity in the colleges, whether it is FE or HE, in the same way that the HE council does for all university programmes.

Professor Andrews said this could not be a solution for Wales where there were no institutions with an even spread of FE and HE, as there are in Scotland. Those that did had shed their FE courses to become universities.

A third difference between the Welsh and Scottish models is that both councils in the principality were created afresh at the same time on a "greenfield site". The implication, although Professor Andrews did not spell it out, is that the Scottish FE council may have to adapt to the ways of HE.

An "appalling legacy" of neglect had been inherited in Wales and the council's first job was to strengthen the FE sector. After initial suspicions on the part of the universities about any moves to "partnership", he said, collaboration was now often initiated by the institutions themselves.

The Welsh experience suggested that a single secretariat serving the two sectors promotes joint management, strengthens monitoring systems "which helps when you hit trouble", enables rationalisation to take place instead of "the dog's dinner we inherited", provides mutual support in areas such as information technology and beefs up representation to the policy-makers.

Scottish reaction to the Welsh experience was largely positive, the main concern being that the separate identity of Scottish FE should not be lost .

Tom Kelly, chief officer of the Association of Scottish Colleges, said it was "refreshing to have someone with a higher education background being so positive about FE". Professor Andrews was formerly head of the law department at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

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