No student voice in guild proposals branded a ‘bad April fool’

Proposals for the FE Guild have been criticised as a “bad April fool” by the NUS after it emerged there could be no student representation on the board.

A draft guild implementation plan, seen by FE WEEK, suggests seats on the board for the Association of Colleges (AoC), the Association of Employment and Learning Providers and the Association of Adult Education and Training Organisations (AAETO), which operates under the name HOLEX.

The plan compares the guild to the York-based HE Academy, which does have learner representation on its board, but there are no plans for a recognised student voice on the guild board.

Toni Pearce, vice president of the NUS and spokesperson on FE, said: “The attempt to remove student representation from the sector would risk undermining the guild’s credibility from the start.

“It goes without saying that we intend to resist this patronising and regressive attempt to erode the learner voice.”

Referring to guild aims outlined in the draft document, she added: “For the guild to define its measure of success ‘genuine improvement in learner outcomes and experiences’ and then seek to remove national student representation reads like a bad April fool.”

The proposals for the guild have been defended by the AoC, which has been contracted to develop the guild. Its chief executive, Martin Doel, said: “The need to engage with learners is a very firm commitment in the implementation plan.

“The steering group considered the best way of achieving this and did not feel that having a single representative as a director on the board was the most effective way to achieve the level of engagement needed.”

He added: “An early task for the implementation team, working with the steering group is to decide how the student voice is best heard.”

The draft plan acknowledged the importance of learner views on the guild, but proposed that “learners specifically be part of the wider sector engagement processes, rather than part of the governance arrangements”.

But Ms Pearce dismissed this as an attempt “to fob students off” which “merely adds insult to injury”.

The plan further outlines a proposed budget and home for the guild, predicting the total core infrastructure and overhead costs to deliver a year’s activity at £2.8m, based on 32 full time staff — in London.

The plan says: “It should be emphasised that this is a very early estimate… If and when approval for the next phase of development is secured a more detailed, costed activity model will be developed.”

The implementation plan said Central London property costs were around £70 per square foot, in Birmingham they were £44 and in Coventry they were £27.

However, a Central London base was recommended as “the guild is a small organisation and as such any saving or cost between locations is more marginal”.

The plan continued: “Using reasonable assumptions it was calculated that the maximum saving on locating in the Midlands was under £60,000 once additional travel time and other costs had been included.

“This is marginal given the overall size of the guild so it can be concluded that this factor is not as important as proximity to key stakeholders.”

A “phased approach” to funding of the guild was also proposed, with a direct grant from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills covering the guild’s first two years, with a top slice, or levy, of the overall skills budget funding the third year. The guild would aim to be self-funding after that, it adds.