Issue 5

THE ROAD TO REGIONALISATION? CONVERSATIONS ON FURTHER EDUCATION

By Katy Wedderburn and Duncan Osler, MacRoberts LLP

On 20 March the Education and Culture Committee of the Scottish Parliament issued its second report on the overall merits of the Post-16 Education Scotland Bill.

The Bill is intended to underpin the Scottish Government's sector-wide reform of Post-16 education and is generating a considerable amount of debate. Aimed at growth and jobs generation, and improving life chances, it is also key to merging Scotland's colleges into a new regional framework.  The Committee's support for the Bill‘s underlying aims and general direction is qualified in the Report by the need for further information before amendments to the Bill can be considered at Stage 2. 

There was a lively discussion of the issues at a recent MacRoberts seminar for the college sector, 'The Road to Regionalisation'. As the Committee Report notes on Parliamentary evidence, the need for some of the increased legislative control of colleges is now being widely questioned.

At the seminar there was considerable focus on how the new governance arrangements would actually work, as there is in the Committee Report.

As the Committee Report notes on Parliamentary evidence, the need for some of the increased legislative control of colleges is now being widely questioned.

Taking Board make-up for example, the Committee reports a mixed response to the removal of the previous requirement for half of Boards‘ membership to be reserved for those with industrial, commercial or employment experience. The Committee also said it would welcome an explanation of the underlying principles behind the Scottish Government’s decisions on board appointment and composition.

And will other stated aims for the college sector be achieved? There is broad support for widening access, for example.  But with strong evidence that the closer students are to college the greater the likelihood that they will stay the course, the view persists that centralising courses to a smaller number of colleges which adds distance to student journeys will not help on that score.

The employment and financial considerations of plans to harmonise terms and conditions for merged staff groups are key, both to effective educational provision and addressing financial constraints. So just how does pressure to make savings sit with protection of existing terms and conditions? Some of the practical and detailed points which will arise were covered at the seminar.

But with a number of mergers very much already in hand, College Boards, management and staff already are embarked on journeys towards operating on the new regional landscape and need to be prepared. 

how far will a college Board be able to consider and decide independently on detailed contractual terms of a transfer they are directed to make in future?

Allied to concerns over the extent to which appointments to Boards are to be controlled under the new legislation, are questions on the likely and appropriate extent of external involvement in decision-making.

Under the Bill a regional strategic body may require a college to transfer staff, property and assets and liabilities to itself or another college. Given the proposed rights of a member of the regional strategic body to attend (on a non-voting basis) and to address any Board meeting, how far will a college Board be able to consider and decide independently on detailed contractual terms of a transfer they are directed to make in future?

Preserving college charitable status and not putting finances at greater risk will of course be key.  Just as fundamentally, all stakeholders in colleges are watching closely to see the final shape of the new legislation and how far they will be told - and able to shape - course delivery at a local level. 

There was a clear appreciation at the ‘Road to Regionalisation’ seminar of some of the detailed consequences of the Bill and regionalisation and how high the stakes are in social and economic terms - not to forget the impacts for learners of today, and tomorrow.

By Katy Wedderburn and Duncan Osler, MacRoberts LLP

Issue 5

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