The Department of Education for Northern Ireland is to take over the administration of the province's 17 further education colleges. Northern Ireland education minister Michael Ancram has published draft legislation to incorporate the colleges, transferring administrative control from the five education and library boards to DENI.
This plan mirrors the Scottish further education system, where colleges are now funded directly by the Scottish Office rather than local authorities, without a further education funding council. The Northern Ireland colleges would become free-standing bodies owning their own property and employing their own staff.
Mr Ancram called for comments on the proposed draft legislation by the beginning of December and said the target date for incorporation was August 1 1997.
"This is a vital step forward which will bring the sector into line with the rest of the United Kingdom where colleges have been incorporated since April 1993," he said.
Colleges would have greater control over the services they provided, and a greater ability to respond to the needs of their students, business and industry and local communities, he said.
Jim McKeown, regional official of lecturers' union Natfhe, condemned the move as giving enormous power to civil servants, while others would have no rights or means to challenge decisions.
"A great opportunity has been lost to establish a Northern Ireland council to plan and fund further and higher education in a strategic way and in the best interests of our community," he said.
A spokesperson for Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education, the province's largest further education college, said: "We have been overadministered, and therefore these proposals are no bad thing. But there are also disadvantages in that the local education and library boards do know their areas and can fight for them."
Mr Ancram has also published controversial draft legislation to cut the number of education and library boards from five to three by April 1998.