Exeter College principal Richard Atkins has been unveiled as the next president of the Association of College (AoC) after his election by members.

Mr Atkins, also a former principal of Yeovil College who started his working life in the department store Harrods, will take up the role in August when incumbent Michele Sutton steps down. He will serve a one-year term.

It comes after Exeter College celebrated being officially branded outstanding earlier this year following a new no-notice inspection. It had initially received the rating after being

Michele Sutton

involved in a pilot of the new inspections two years ago.

Mr Atkins said: “I’m a passionate supporter of our sector and see the presidential role in the run-up to the 2015 General Election as that of an advocate for colleges. Our further education colleges — general, sixth form and specialist — transform the life chances of their students and are an important national asset, but I’m all too aware of the challenges that lie ahead.

“The years following the election will continue to be fiscally tight and our sector has already been the hardest hit, both with provision for 16 to 18-year-olds and the adult skills budget. I’ll be lobbying all of the main parties to make it clear that we want to see fairness and transparency — they can’t continue to squeeze the adaptive layer in the middle while protecting schools and universities.

“The role of colleges has also changed in recent years with some launching academies, university technical colleges and career colleges, but we can’t continue to do more with less so I’ll be calling on Government to provide a clearer strategic vision of what they see as our role over the next three to five years.”

Martin Doel

AoC chief executive Martin Doel said: “Richard will bring real drive and expertise to the role and we’ll all look forward to working alongside him.

“It is clear that he’s passionate about both the work and the worth of colleges and will be able to take up the cudgel for the sector in what will be a very busy time in the run-up to 2015.”

AoC chair Carole Stott said: “Our sector is coping with the demands of deep year-on-year national funding cuts and a raft of far-reaching policy and curriculum changes. Principals across the country are being put to the test as they find innovative ways of managing these challenges. It is a real testament to Richard’s ability and inexhaustible energy that he’s put himself forward for this important role.

“I know that he will bring his wisdom and experience to promoting the vital work of our colleges. In Richard, AoC and our members will have a real champion for everything colleges stand for.”

Ms Sutton, the principal of Bradford College who took up the role of president in August last year, said: “I’m delighted that Richard will be my successor. I’m sure he’ll bring not only his extensive experience and wisdom, but also a real passion for the sector and will be a fantastic ambassador for colleges. I look forward to working closely with him over the next few months.”