Education secretary says government won't claw back surpluses, which will be used for regionalisation
Colleges merging under the government’s regionalisation programme will be expected to meet a significant portion of the costs from their own reserves, Education Secretary Michael Russell has told MSPs.
He also revealed that he would not seek a mechanism to “claw back” college reserves, despite such a measure being recommended in a recent review of college governance.
In testy exchanges before the Education and Culture Committee of the Scottish Parliament, Russell revealed that up to 40 per cent of the costs of the merger between three colleges to form Edinburgh College were being met by the institution itself.
A recent Audit Scotland report into the financial standing of colleges, Scotland’s Colleges: Current Finances, Future Challenges, revealed that the college sector as a whole held £206m in reserves in 2011.
The review of college governance conducted by Professor Russell Griggs, which in large part set out the current process of reform being rolled out by the Scottish Government in the further education sector, had called for colleges to hand over reserves of over 10 per cent of revenue for reinvestment nationally.
Russell also faced hostile questioning from opposition MSPs during the session on the 2012-13 Scottish budget, which was dominated by the issue of funding for further education.
The Education Secretary was repeatedly asked by Labour MSPs Neil Findlay and Neil Bibby if he disagreed with the Audit Scotland report, which put the total reduction in revenue support for colleges at £74m over four years – a cut of 24 per cent. Russell rejected their questioning as party political, adding that £67.5m of in-year funding had been injected into the sector in the past two years, and telling Findlay, “I don’t think you live in the real world.”
It was revealed at the end of September that the cost of the Edinburgh College merger of £17.6m was greater than the £15m transformation fund created by the Scottish Government to support college mergers across Scotland.