Scottish Funding Council pleased with savings from college mergers
Thurso engineering - credit North Highland College UHI
The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) has hailed the merging of Scotland’s colleges into public bodies a success in a new report.
Colleges in Scotland were merged from 2011/12 to avoid duplicated courses and work more closely with industry.
An evaluation by the SFC claims planned benefits to students of creating large regional colleges of scale are being achieved despite the fact colleges “are still addressing particular challenges of merger, including financial and operational issues”.
These include a £5m deficit at Edinburgh College highlighted by the funding body last month.
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The new colleges are more "confident and ambitious", the report says, as well as being "more resilient and sustainable for the future".
Last year a report by Audit Scotland said although colleges had “coped well” with the mergers, there was little evidence of improvements to education or significant financial savings.
However, the SFC now reports the process is saving the sector £52.2m a year.
“It is highly unlikely that the savings outlined could have been achieved by the colleges in their previous configuration in the same timescale,” it says.
John Kemp, interim SFC chief executive, said the merger process had “transformed” the FE landscape in Scotland.
“The college merger programme was one of the most ambitious in Scotland in recent years and therefore it was important that we evaluated it fully,” he said.
Teachers union the EIS said students and staff had found the merger process difficult.
Lecturers took part in a strike earlier this year over pay and national bargaining, which is to be followed by a strike of support staff soon.
However Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, welcomed the SFC report.
“Post-merger colleges are delivering benefits – significantly in driving positive and improved outcomes for students, integrating curriculum, and a better landscape for the delivery of skills. We’re pleased the report reflects this.
“It is particularly encouraging that it highlights progress such as much more effective engagement with employers and schools by colleges since the reorganisation of the sector.”
In March the Scottish Parliament's education committee heard investment and restructuring of colleges following their merger into public bodies has been spread unequally across Scotland, with Edinburgh College a net loser.