A review of vocational education and training was announced last week by the Scottish Government. It is to be carried out by Willy Roe, chairman of Skills Development Scotland, and is scheduled to be completed by next March.
His remit is partly to ensure that work-related programmes achieve "better value for money". This will set alarm bells ringing that the purpose of the review, which will cost pound;25,000, is to trim spending and axe courses.
Announcing the review, Education Secretary Michael Russell commented: "Times are tough, and the current climate of deep Westminster spending cuts means we absolutely must get the very best value for the public purse".
The review comes amid growing pressure on further and higher education to tailor their courses more closely to the jobs market. John McClelland, chairman of the Scottish Funding Council, called at the end of June for top priority to be given to study programmes which support "skills and employability" and the "learning to work" agenda.
Mr McClelland will temporarily fill Mr Roe's position as chair of Skills Development Scotland during the period of the review.
The funding council is putting pound;5 million behind four work placement programmes, which will give university degrees a more vocational edge.
These trends were given added reinforcement by the other part of Mr Roe's remit, which is to come up with proposals for ensuring that training contributes to "faster progress on the Government's national economic targets". The review will also be influenced by Curriculum for Excellence.
The Government's concern over whether vocational education is heading in the right direction is heightened by the fact that funding for FE and HE is at record levels, and more than pound;200 million has been invested in skills development in 2010-11.
Education Secretary Michael Russell said: "As Scotland emerges from the recession and faces public spending challenges, we must continue to focus on responding to the skills demands of the modern labour market. Doing this successfully will allow us to take advantage of emerging economic opportunities and to ensure people of all ages can move into the jobs of the future."
Mr Roe said: "This review comes at a time of genuine opportunity for Scotland at the same time as we face clear economic and fiscal challenges. The move to a low carbon economy is transforming the way we do business with the world. Technological advances are allowing those communities that have traditionally been at the periphery of our economy to move into the mainstream. Greater exposure to global influences is widening Scotland's horizons and raising ambition, particularly among our young people.
"If we are going to take full advantage of these changes we must move decisively to develop a highly competitive and innovative workforce".
In a non-committal response, Linda McTavish, convener of Scotland's Colleges Principals' Convention, said they had yet to receive full details of the review from the Government and simply noted that colleges, which deliver the majority of vocational training and qualifications in Scotland, have been doing all they can to meet the rising demand for FE places in the economic downturn.
Jacqui Hepburn, director of the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils in Scotland, welcomed the review. "It is vital that we deliver the appropriate skills to meet the demands of the recovering labour market, and are able to forecast the skills demands of the future".
The review will focus on post-16 vocational education and training which supports people into work and helps sustain them in productive employment. It will cover adults as well as young people, and include skills in as well as out of work.
Mr Roe will be assisted by Dennis Gunning, a former senior official in the Scottish Qualifications Authority, who went on to head the vocational education service in the Australian state of Victoria and later became director of Skills Higher Education and Lifelong Learning with the Welsh Assembly.