More employers wanted as college governors say AoC

The Association of Colleges’ Governors’ Council wants more employers at board level, but rejected bringing back diversity quotas.

It has published the results of a review, called Creating Excellence in College Governance, which looked at how the performance of college governors could be improved.

The review was carried out by education and management adviser Dr Sue Pember, previously a senior civil servant at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). She talked through her key findings with FE Week and said more governors from the business community were needed to reflect the closer links colleges of today had with employers.

“The unique thing about colleges is that they already have links to employers through apprenticeships and they should build on these links,” said Dr Pember.

“Employers also bring to the table a different mindset, for example when it comes to managing budgets and monitoring risk.”

She said there were three possible ways of getting more businessmen and women to become governors.

The first, which is already used by some FE institutions, involves inviting employers involved with apprenticeship schemes to sit on college advisory boards. Another way is for colleges to contact the largest employers in their areas and invite them to submit candidates to become governors.

But Dr Pember said the review steered clear of representation quotas for employers. She said the same of gender, race or ethnicity quotas.

She said a report published in July this year by BIS had already warned of a lack of diversity on boards and addressed the issue by calling on colleges to “refresh” board membership. It stated: “There has … been some criticism of an over-representation of older white males on governing bodies. Colleges need to ensure diversity of gender, ethnicity, age and disability.”

Dr Pember said: “Colleges need flexibility to refresh their boards, so their governors can reflect their teaching priorities, for example the sectors they offer apprenticeship courses in. Also, they may need to reflect the ethnic make-up of their staff, students and the surrounding area.

“Quotas could have the opposite effect of restricting who they can take on. There were quotas back in the 1990s, but that didn’t work.”

It comes after Business Secretary Vince Cable warned large private UK firms in April he would consider introducing quotas to force more women onto their boards of governors.

Dr Pember said college governors were now more important than they had ever been.

She said: “This government has given colleges much more freedom. They no longer have local arms of the Learning and Skills Council/Skills Funding Agency or local authorities looking over their shoulders every five minutes to check what they are doing, which is for the best.

“However, that places much greater responsibility on the shoulders of governors to hold their colleges to account and say when something isn’t being done right.”

Dr Pember said college funding arrangements could be confusing for governors as cash and monitoring quidelines could come from three sources — the Skills Funding Agency, Education Funding Agency and Higher Funding Education Council.

Having two different government departments — the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills — responsible for FE policies could also be a problem, she said.

She said: “We understand different agencies and departments are needed to reflect their differing priorities, and they have agreed to draw up a clear and comprehensive framework to ensure governors understand how the system works.” Skills Minister Matthew Hancock welcomed the report.

He said: “I want to see these recommendations taken forward as swiftly as possible. Strongly governed colleges will mean we have an education system that is agile, rigorous and responsive.”

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What’s the future of college governance?

FE Week webinar in partnership with the AoC, 5-6pm Wednesday November 6, 2013

Join the editor of FE Week, Nick Linford, AoC Governance Advisor, Dr Susan Pember and AoC Chair, Carole Stott to discuss the report and what the future of college governance might look like.

 Register here: https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/878994856