Jim Wallace, who steps down as a minister and leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats later this month, was addressing the annual conference of the Association of Scottish Colleges, which paid tribute to the major funding increases secured for FE. The Scottish Executive will have raised spending on FE to pound;620 million by 2008 - up 45 per cent in four years.
Mr Wallace returned the warm tributes he received, and said he believed colleges were now "vibrant, successful and have a clear sense of direction". He outlined a string of "successes worth celebrating", a phrase he repeated several times.
But, on the basis that nothing is ever so good that it cannot be improved, Mr Wallace announced "the most fundamental and wide-ranging review of the college sector Scotland has ever seen".
The aim will be to look at the strategic future of FE over the next 10-20 years, strengthening the way colleges are run, with improved staff support and teaching methods.
Mr Wallace made clear that the Executive expects the review to provide the "clearest possible basis" on which to take future spending decisions .
His announcement was welcomed by the ASC. Tom Kelly, its chief executive, told The TES Scotland that it would be an opportunity "to consider the fundamentals". That might include an in-depth look at how colleges can benefit from "general and sustained growth supported by realistic levels of spending", as well as a sophisticated inquiry into the kind of FE sector Scotland needs.
Earlier Mr Kelly had warned the conference that demographic shifts meant that colleges had to concentrate on equipping the working age population to do their jobs better and prepare for career switches. By 2018, the proportion of the workforce aged 45-64 will reach 45 per cent.
In his speech, Mr Wallace also announced his approval for the merger of Glenrothes and Fife colleges as well as Falkirk and Clackmannan colleges.
This will bring the number of mergers to three - all within the past year.
From August 1, the two Fife institutions will combine to form the Adam Smith College, while the other two will become Forth Valley College.
Mr Wallace's final legacy was to reveal an award of pound;2.8 million from the European Regional Development Fund to bring about the relocation of Borders College and Heriot-Watt University at Netherdale in Galashiels. The total cost of pound;15 million will be supported by pound;8.5 million from the FE funding council and the rest from the institutions' own resources.