Colleges: Tripartite Alignment Group minutes - 25 January 2024

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 25 January 2024.

Attendees and apologies

  • Graeme Dey, Minister for Higher Education, Further Education and Veterans
  • Liz Hawkins (Chair), Scottish Government 
  • Edmund Anderson, Scottish Government 
  • Fraser Syme, Scottish Government 
  • Lynne Raeside, Scottish Funding Council 
  • Richard Maconachie, Scottish Funding Council
  • Martin Boyle, Scottish Funding Council
  • Simon Hewitt (Dundee and Angus College Principal), Colleges Scotland
  • Alan Williamson (Edinburgh College, Finance Director), Colleges Scotland
  • Andy Witty, Colleges Scotland 
  • Joanna Campbell (Dumfries and Galloway College Principal) , Colleges Scotland 
  • Alex Linkston (West Lothian College Chair), Colleges Scotland

Items and actions

Note of last meeting

Attendees confirmed they are content with the note of the last meeting - it will be published on the group’s webpage.

Progress table

SG has created a progress table to capture progress on the various workstreams - it will be added to the group’s Sharepoint site for members to update once available. SFC noted issues with establishing appropriate Sharepoint access with SG systems. SG IT colleagues are progressing this.  


  • SFC to chase up IT department working on the Sharepoint site

Asset disposals

SFC have arranged a meeting with SG Infrastructure colleagues in February. There is one college speaking to SFC currently about an asset disposal so it is important that progress is made quickly. SG provided an update regarding increasing the de minimus value and clarified that to change this value would require a change in law under the 1992 Act. There was discussion about how a change would work in practice and agreement that SFC, CS and SG would work together to establish the purpose, process and suggest criteria which can be discussed by the group. Assumed parameters (for example the percentage of a sale retained by a selling college and the percentage that would go into a general pot) would be utilised in order to test-run a process. There was discussion about the need to have a rough understanding of the number and value of assets which may be identified for disposal by the college sector. It was clarified that digital infrastructure should be considered as appropriate for capital funding as well as the physical estate. The Minister reinforced that he would like this work to be progressed at pace. 


  • a working group will be established in order to develop a draft scheme, with all three parties involved. SG to establish first meeting
  • CS to develop a register of assets for disposal with indication of rough value
  • SG will investigate if it is possible to amend the relevant legislation as secondary legislation

Cost methodology

There was discussion about the SFC’s paper on cost methodology and its proposal to carry out an assessment of current cost methodologies across the sector and then consider a sector-wide benchmarking approach. There was agreement that there may be comparability issues given that colleges’ costing models vary significantly. There was discussion about a current benchmarking exercise that a number of colleges are involved in with Tribal – this should be completed by the end of March. Given the associated costs, and the need for endorsement by Chairs and Finance Directors, understanding the benefits of using the benchmarking approach and its scalability will be critical selling points for the rest of the sector. SFC noted that they would require further resource (such as a project manager) to take this work forward. 


  • cost methodology work and potential use of Tribal to be raised at CS all chairs and principals event on 30 January, and also the next meetings of the College Principals Group and College Chairs Group
  • SFC to engage with principals of colleges involved in the Tribal pilot in order to gain greater understanding
  • CS members from colleges involved in the benchmarking exercise to provide an update to the group (mindful of confidential nature of the work) once the findings of the pilot period are known (likely to be April)

Comms plan

The group’s webpage is now live and the Minister has written to all college principals to make them aware. There was agreement that a joint letter from the group should be sent to the Education, Children and Young People Committee to update them on its work, outlining its priorities.


  • SG officials will draft a joint letter to ECYP Committee and share with members for comments

Budget – next steps in the allocation process

CS asked for clarity around the budget to understand what might be reduced this year. SFC will be talking to principals on 30 January and are aware of the need to get the budget distributed to the sector ASAP. There is a commitment to maintaining budgets for teaching and learning wherever possible. There was discussion around Foundation Apprenticeships (FAs) and that while the concept is fine, the standard is variable. Employers have expressed concerns about what value they get out of FAs. This requires examination, as does the ‘double funding’ issue in relation to school pupils. There was agreement that a working group should be set up in due course to look at apprenticeships and establish what would work best – it was not agreed whether or not this group would best fall under the auspices of the Tripartite Alignment Group. 

Credit Flexibility Working Group

There was agreement that the Credit Flexibility Working Group will be renamed the College Funding Group. A paper had been provided by CS for discussion by the Tripartite Alignment Group. It was agreed that the issues raised in the paper would be discussed in detail by the College Funding Group with findings brought back to this group.

CS advised that colleges want to look at what mitigations can be put in place to provide them the space to plan for doing things differently over the next few years. One of their suggestions was a blanket ban on clawback for three years. SG noted that public accountability requirements would make this suggestion untenable, however, they were open to understanding the other suggestions in the paper. There was discussion around credit tolerance levels and flexibility. While the SFC don’t feel that an increase in tolerance is necessarily required (changes already made have had a positive effect), they are willing to look at options in recognition of the need to support colleges to move to a more sustainable position. 

The Minister wants to empower and trust colleges and their principals to do what their regions need while retaining the SFC’s role in monitoring this to ensure that all colleges are fully accountable and show high performance. 


  • SFC to set up next meeting of the College Funding Group to discuss these issues further

Minister’s reflections and forward look

The Minister was encouraged by the discussions at the meeting; he recognises and appreciates the work of all those involved; and wants to continue in the spirit of making progress at pace, while recognising there are a number of challenges to come.

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