SNP education shake-up could put colleges at risk

Mandy Exley says the bill is a move towards central control
Mandy Exley says the bill is a move towards central control
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A CONTROVERSIAL shake-up of further education could threaten colleges’ financial ­future, the principal of one of Scotland’s foremost institutions has warned.

Mandy Exley, head of Edinburgh College, has said the government’s post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill that hands powers to ministers to set priorities for colleges in return for funding is being “rushed through”.

Scotland’s poorest communities could also be harmed by plans to focus college provision on 16 to 24-year-olds at the ­expense of adults, Ms Exley has claimed in a written statement to MSPs ahead of a Holyrood hearing on the bill on Tuesday.

The government’s college regionalisation plans, that will hand powers to ministers for the hiring and firing of new chairs of regional education boards, were criticised as a move towards “central control” by Ms Exley.

Ms Exley’s criticism of the ­reforms from education secretary Mike Russell follow a spat between Stow College board chairman Kirk Ramsay and the SNP minister.

Mr Russell reprimanded Mr Ramsay, after he recorded a private conversation at a summit of college bosses. They discussed the college shake-up that will also allow the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) to review the provision of courses.

Ms Exley has criticised Mr Russell’s plans that include a provision to make it easier to exclude college principals from governing bodies of institutions.

She said: “We have concerns over the proposed structure of a regional college board of management and in particular the intention to remove the legal ­requirement for a principal to be a board member.

“As good practice, we believe that if the board is to fully exercise its function in ‘securing coherent provision of high quality fundable education’ in an ‘economical, efficient, effective’ manner. It should contain at least one member of the executive team.”

Ms Exley said that the board of Edinburgh College has ­“serious concerns” about the ­increased involvement of government bodies such as the SFC and Skills Development Scotland in the running of colleges.

She said: “We are concerned that the increasing number of funding bodies and mechanisms may be inefficient and make it difficult for regional colleges to plan effectively for a financially sustainable future.”

Ms Exley added: “Colleges will have to reduce costs rapidly to remain financially sustainable and there is a risk that opportunities for our students and communities will be compromised.”

Mr Russell has said college ­regionalisation would deliver efficiencies of £50 million ­annually, improve governance and ensure courses are better aligned to employers’ needs.

Ms Exley said that the bill also “appears to rush through changes to funding structures and amounts with little obvious thought” of how colleges will deliver courses.

The Scottish Government defended the reforms, which it insisted would benefit students and the economy.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “The post-16 bill will underpin college ­regionalisation and ensure young people benefit from college provision aimed at the needs of the economy.

“We have asked colleges to prioritise young people because they face particular challenges in the labour market.”