Mergers are starting to feature in the Scottish further education college landscape. It is planned that the number of colleges in Scotland will be reduced from the current number of 42, and the remaining colleges will be structured within 12 regional clusters through further mergers and regional partnerships.
While larger colleges will be created, local further education provision will still be offered. It is believed that this will create a more efficient service that is more responsive to the needs of students and local economies. It is envisaged that the larger entities will be able to offer a wider range of courses and share individual colleges’ business and community links. This will benefit students and local businesses by developing professionals that possess the skills needed in the labour market.
The regionalisation move has been introduced to combat inequalities in areas such as finances, learning facilities and selection of students. Mergers and closer partnerships will allow for sharing facilities and expertise. The regionalisation strategy was recommended in Professor Griggs’ Further education governance review in January 2012. The regional structure, according to the review, promotes ‘on the one hand a more cohesive and consistent sector, while on the other maintaining its links with the communities it serves.’
The move towards having fewer colleges is intended to create a more unified college landscape, which allows policy to be better coordinated at national level where appropriate. The Scottish Education Secretary Mike Russell said the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill will change the way colleges are governed and structured, but that ‘courses will still be delivered locally and what young people now study will give them a greater chance of getting a job because the courses, when and where they are delivered, will be more aligned to what local businesses need.’
As a consequence of the current economic situation, Scottish colleges have experienced funding cuts. The mergers are intended to reduce running costs; however, critics have warned that the savings may not occur immediately due to the cost of the process of merging institutions.
Approximately 300 000 people attend college on a full-time or part-time basis in Scotland. Scottish colleges offer a broad range of qualifications at both secondary and tertiary levels. Programmes include basic vocational programmes, specialised vocational qualifications that may form part of apprenticeship frameworks, and higher vocational programmes, as well as bachelor degrees.