The Scottish Government has announced further details of how its flagship post-16 education reforms will change the way Scotland’s further education sector is run, naming 12 people who will run the new regionalised college structure.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, Education Secretary Mike Russell told MSPs the post-16 plans were intended to provide the skills framework necessary to support economic growth, adding: “I remain confident that we can deliver on those ambitions.”
Russell confirmed new structures that will see further education delivered in the Highlands by an autonomous structure within the new University of the Highlands and Islands, and mergers in Edinburgh that put the city’s colleges “at the vanguard of change”. Mergers will also see single-college regions created in Fife and the west of Scotland.
He also announced that the merger of three institutions to create a single Scottish agricultural college could be approved by parliament as early as 1 October.
Praising the “excellent progress” made by the further education sector in implementing the reforms, Russell said: “Change of this nature and of this scale is inevitably complex and challenging, but I congratulate college leaders in every part of the sector, chairs boards principals lecturers support staff students unions and others. They have recognised the opportunities and they have applied their expertise and influence.”
A list of appointees to lead 12 of the 13 new college regions was also unveiled, with former First Minister Henry McLeish taking the helm in Glasgow and Ian McKay leading Edinburgh’s soon-to-be single college region. Other notable appointments include former Liberal Democrat Highland Council leader Dr Michael Foxley, and Professor Russell Griggs – whose review of further education governance helped create the framework for the reforms – taking the helm in Ayrshire.
Russell announced that in addition to appointing regional chairs, ministers will also appoint the first boards of newly-merged colleges, following new guidelines on their composition that guarantee representation for students and local authorities.
The reforms have been welcomed by NUS Scotland. “Today’s announcement is to be broadly welcomed, recognising as it does the vital role that students have to play in their universities and colleges. It’s important that we really do seek to put students at the centre, and ensure that we recognise the unique perspective and expertise students can bring to the table,” said Robin Parker, NUS Scotland president.
However, both the Labour and Conservative parties have expressed reservations about ministerial powers to appoint college boards, claiming that they represent a power-grab by ministers that undermines the independence of institutions.
“I remain very concerned about the reform process, most especially the intention of the Scottish Government to influence the appointments of chairs to university courts and the new regional college boards. These moves directly threaten the autonomy of our Further and Higher Education institutions,” said Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith.
“We know that universities and colleges have, themselves, already embarked on some reforms to reflect the changing the structure of post 16 education and they have also accepted the need for a code of good governance practice. What they have not accepted however, is the attempts by the Scottish Government to tell them what to do and take more control over strategic decision-making.
“In the university sector particularly, we know there has been a total rejection of the proposal to have elected chairs of university courts and yet the Cabinet Secretary seems determined to bully them into submission.
“There is absolutely no evidence that there is a fundamental problem with governance in either sector, and therefore one has to question why the Scottish Government seems to think this is a priority when there are so many other challenging educational issues at present.”