College principals and FE lecturers have raised concerns over the short timescale for meeting the Government's target to move from 41 individual colleges to 12 regional groupings by March next year.
A consultation paper on college regionalisation, published this week, gives interested parties until Christmas to respond to wide-ranging plans to reform further education structures, funding mechanisms and the monitoring of performance.
John Spencer, convener of Scotland's Colleges' Principals' Convention, said colleges remained concerned at the proposed pace of reform, which would see the new model implemented next year.
"The paper proposes to fund regional groupings of colleges which do not yet exist, and the timescale for delivery allows very little time to plan and create those partnerships," he said.
He welcomed a recognition in the paper that transitional arrangements would be required to support colleges through the reform process.
Mr Spencer added: "We hope to see those arrangements supported by a dedicated additional sum of money, protecting both places for students and against destabilising any institutions."
Education Secretary Michael Russell said the regionalisation plans built on earlier proposals to reform post-16 education, outlined in Putting Learners in the Centre in September. A central tenet of the strategy is to focus college provision on improving the employability of 16 to 19-year- olds. But it also calls for a programme of mergers.
"Investment in the college sector should be focused on the needs of a region, while maintaining local access. Regionalisation offers many opportunities," he said. "It can strengthen the role and influence of colleges in local communities, help promote more coherent planning and delivery, and ensure sustainable funding."
The paper argues that investment in the FE sector should be focused on the socio-economic needs of a region.
"We will expect colleges in a region to work together rather than independently to meet that need. We will make clear our expectations in an outcome agreement to be negotiated with the colleges in a region, with this agreement acting as the key mechanism for accountability.
"This approach represents a fundamental shift: from historically-based to needs-based funding; from individual colleges to regional groupings; and from activity to outcomes," it adds.
The Government suggests four different formats for colleges under regionalisation: merged, federation, a "lead" college and collaboration.
David Belsey, national officer for further and higher education at the EIS, said the governance structure of any regional college network should be informed by the outcome of the review by Russel Griggs, which is due to conclude at the end of 2011, the same time as the regionalisation consultation closes.
The Government is also seeking to simplify the funding of courses, based on three elements: a subject-based payment; a payment reflecting the additional costs of teaching students with additional needs; and a rural infrastructure payment.
PROPOSED REGIONAL GROUPINGS
North east: Aberdeen, Banff and Buchan
Fife: Adam Smith, Carnegie
Tayside: Angus, Dundee
Glasgow: Anniesland, North Glasgow, Stow, John Wheatley, Cardonald, Langside, City of Glasgow
West: Reid Kerr, James Watt (Greenock campus), Clydebank
Ayrshire: Ayr, Kilmarnock, James Watt (Kilwinning campus)
Dumfries and Galloway: Dumfries and Galloway (with a possible HEFE link through the Crichton campus)
Lanarkshire: Coatbridge, Cumbernauld, Motherwell and South Lanarkshire
Borders: Borders (with a possible link to Edinburgh and Lothians)
Edinburgh and Lothians: Jewel amp; Esk, Stevenson, Telford, West Lothian
Forth Valley: Forth Valley (with possible link to West Lothian College)
Highlands and Islands: Perth, Inverness, Moray, North Highland, Argyll, and West Highland (with a possible HEFE link to UHI).
- Newbattle Abbey College (Scotland's only adult residential college), Sabhal Mor Ostaig (Gaelic) and the three land-based colleges - Barony, Elmwood and Oatridge - would be treated as having a national role.