EDDIE FRIZZELL, the enterprise and lifelong learning chief, revealed in a number of exchanges a greater awareness of staffing and other problems than senior officials have hitherto publicly expressed.
Andrew Welsh (SNP), the committee's convener, challenged management strategies for "less expensive staffing solutions . . . lower cost teaching support staff to deliver relevant parts of the provision and less staff-intensive curriculum delivery strategies".
Mr Welsh, formerly a lecturer at Angus College, told Mr Frizzell: "If I read that aright, it means pay teachers less, replace lecturers with machines and produce a system that relies on part-time teachers on short-term contracts. Is that not a recipe for overstretched, insecure and tired staff who have no time for research, training or updating their subject skills, as well as for dissatisfied students?"
Mr Frizzell replied by criticising the National Audit Office report on college costs, which prompted the MSPs' inquiry, for failing to recognise that cost-
cutting "is stressful for the staff involved and that, without their engagement, one will not be very successful in achieving one's management objectives".
But he said that staff costs and productivity "must be examined if substantial inroads are to be made into making efficiencies in the public sector".
Mr Frizzell, formerly head of the Scottish Prison Service, also expressed scepticism about the ways in which college success is judged, a bone of contention for many college managers. "We must be cautious about the extent to which we judge a college's effectiveness and efficiency on the performance indicators. There must be a balance."
He was also sceptical about benchmarking, which allows colleges to compare their effectiveness against other colleges. "We should not get too hooked on it and see it as the sole process."
The main value of such tools is that the results should prompt questions from "any management worth its salt".