Some of the most successful managers in Scotland's colleges are to form a radical new directorate within the Scottish Further Education Funding Council, helping to support colleges with difficulties.
It will be headed by John Burt, principal of Angus College, who will retain the principalship and work the equivalent of two days a week for the Sfefc. It will be staffed mainly by other part-time secondees with a proven track record in management areas such as finance, strategic development and the curriculum.
Roger McClure, chief executive of the Sfefc, says in a letter to college principals: "The aim is to identify a pool of such managers and also potentially some (college) board members, who can be called upon as necessary, individually, or as members of a multi-disciplinary team, to assist a particular college in difficulty. It is envisaged that the college being supported would be consulted on the make-up of the support team."
There has been concern about financial and managerial problems in the sector, with the Scottish Executive warning the Sfefc of the urgent need to improve the sector's financial stability.
Mr Burt, who this summer completed his convenorship of the Association of Scottish Colleges's principals' forum, is a former marketing economist for Lloyds and Scottish Finance.
He said: "I am delighted that this new approach allows the sector to really get a grip on its problems, with the best practising managers helping those who are in difficulty."
Mr McClure said: "Only with financial stability and sound management and governance can colleges serve their communities well and the public be reassured that funds are being put to best use. This innovative approach brings relevant, credible expertise and best practice to bear quickly and directly on colleges' problems."
The ASC welcomed the Sfefc's approach. Policy manager Jane Polglase said:
"This is a very positive step that we hope will genuinely help the sector to develop."
The ASC is keen to promote continuing professional development for principals. It organised a course taught by staff from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Illinois, in the US.