Higher Education Provision in Scotland’s Colleges: A future shaped by new levels of cross-institutional collaboration?

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The college sector in Scotland has undergone considerable restructuring over the last decade. In 2012 the policy reform known as regionalisation was unparalleled, ushering in a radical transformation that rapidly overturned previous structural and governance arrangements, reducing the number of colleges, and streamlining the Scottish further education landscape into 13 regions. A decade later, Scotland’s colleges – now positioned by
various government policy documents and discourses as an integral part of Scotland’s tertiary education sector - have been subject to new levels of scrutiny from a range of independent commissioned reviews, government commissioned reports, and subsequent government response publications. Consequently, there has been a recent surge of publications projecting an assortment of future challenges and policy recommendations aimed at Scotland’s colleges, including the overarching aspiration to make colleges part of a more interconnected and cohesive entity through enhanced levels of collaboration arrangements between the different stakeholders.

This paper charts and discusses the unfolding policy reform context linked to the Scottish college sector; paying particular attention to how higher education provision in Scotland’s colleges will be shaped by emerging policy discourses and recommendations levelled at tertiary education. In doing so, the paper presents an historical overview and comparative
analysis, placing the growth of higher education provision in Scotland’s colleges against a wider backdrop of changes and restructuring unfolding within the English college sector.

Within the context of the recent growth of UK higher education delivery, the paper explores the intersections and disparities between colleges and universities. It is argued that the very recent endorsement for the concept of ‘adaptive leadership’ to help drive through necessary structural and cultural change within Scotland’s tertiary education recognises the realpolitik of the sorts of practical constraints and challenges associated with any endeavours to establish meaningful networks and collaborative ventures within tertiary education. If the concept of adaptive leadership gains traction, then
it has the potential to play a decisive role in shaping the future trajectory of higher education delivery in Scotland’s colleges.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages50
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Adaptive leadership
  • Performativity
  • Neoliberalism
  • Managerialism
  • Regionalisation
  • Collaboration
  • Higher education
  • Further education
  • Colleges and tertiary education


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