Taking care of business

17th August 2007 at 01:00
Howard McKenzie talks about charitable status and 'bogus' colleges, among other things

I HAVE been acting as the chief executive of the Association of Scotland's Colleges for eight months, as well as performing my role as principal of Jewel and Esk Valley College.

It has been a busy time for the college sector across a range of areas, and here is a flavour of some of those with which we are involved:

Charitable status of colleges

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator announced the results of its "rolling review" of charitable status on July 18. Although the regulator found that John Wheatley College has exclusively charitable purposes and provides substantial public benefit, the charity test was not met. This was because the constitution expressly permits Scottish ministers to direct or otherwise control its activities.

OSCR has issued a direction to the college requiring it to amend its constitution. Recognising that the process is in the hands of Scottish ministers, this information has also been sent to the Scottish Executive. The direction issued gives John Wheatley College two years to arrive at a resolution reflecting the time that may be required to resolve the complex legal and parliamentary processes involved.

Our association is working with the college, the executive and Scottish Funding Council to ensure the situation is resolved quickly and the threat of the removal of charitable status is lifted. ASC will be writing to MSPs informing them of OSCR's decision and asking for their support in securing continued charitable status for all Scotland's colleges. This will be one of the most important issues on ASC's agenda until the situation is settled.

Scottish Skills Strategy

The new Scottish Government is developing a skills strategy in response to the Leitch report. Principals have been involved in drafting this key paper.

ASC discussed our proposals in advance with the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses, chambers of commerce and other employer organisations to ensure business support for proposals in our paper. There cannot be consensus on every aspect; however, each proposal is under consideration by ministers.

"Bogus" colleges

I wrote to Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, asking for appropriate action. We await a response. ASC has asked for a briefing from solicitors on possible additional options that the Scottish Government may consider taking to protect further the good name of Scotland's Colleges.

There is an investigation by Strathclyde Police into the allegations of fraud made by those who have lost money through enrolment in courses that were promised but not delivered. ASC has contacted the police and will assist their enquiries in any way we can.

I am also aware that the recent announcement by the Home Office will close down some loopholes that have existed in terms of the visa regime. My colleague, Sue Pinder, convenor of the principals' forum, has written to Liam Byrne, the Home Office minister, expressing the association's support for his recent an-nouncement and offering to meet with him to see how Scotland's Colleges can be of assistance.

ESOL teaching qualifications and funding

The executive issued a letter in April announcing its decision that the teaching qualifications in English as a second language would no longer be considered as equivalent to the full Teaching Qualification in Further Education because of changes to the regulations south of the border. Colleges rapidly raised serious concerns about the effect of this change on staff, and particularly on school college partnership working.

ASC has worked to make the executive aware of the problems that this ruling is likely to cause. As a result, the General Teaching Council for Scotland has been consulted and has indicated that its normal procedure would not be to change the status of any practitioner involved. Therefore, a member of Esol teaching staff registered with GTC Scotland will remain so.

We are also hoping for a solution to enable Esol staff to top up their qualifications so that they remain TQFE-equivalent. The ASC executive has emphasised on the sector's behalf that this will require new funding and adequate time.

Meanwhile, the new term has just begun...

Howard McKenzie is acting chief executive of the Association of Scotland's Colleges

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