Brian Wilson's address to the annual conference of the Association of Scottish Colleges, which represents principals and board chairmen, follows sustained attacks from the Educational Institute of Scotland which is demanding "a fundamental review" of funding.
As Clydebank College became the latest to be embroiled in clashes over planned redundancies, Ronnie Smith, the union's general secretary, devoted a major section of his annual conference report to the "crying need for a fundamental review of the entire further education sector". The situation in colleges was "little short of critical" Mr Smith said inadequate funding was only part of the crisis and he called for "a sea change in attitudes" to improve relationships between staff and management. A start should be made by ending "the self-perpetuating oligarchy of the existing boards of management".
The EIS has revealed that 20 of the 24 occasions on which it sanctioned industrial action this year involved the FE colleges.
Mr Smith said the welfare-to-work programme, designed to get 25,000 jobless young people into work or training, could be at risk from the "insidious squeeze" on FE funding. He warned: "The existing funding and planning arrangements for further education cannot continue unchanged."
A Scottish Office funding review is already under way and the Government is also sympathetic to calls for a change in the way colleges are governed.
Meanwhile the result of a ballot of 200 members of the College Lecturers' Association at Clydebank College is due today. The college says its accumulated deficit of Pounds 826,000 is forcing it to axe up to 33 academic posts.
CLA members have already rejected by a show of hands changes to conditions of service which Hugh Walker, the college's principal, says is the only way of alleviating redundancies. The college management, which estimates its staffing expenditure is Pounds 1.2 million above the national average, hopes some of the losses can be achieved voluntarily.