Peter Lauener has stepped away from his position as chair of college giant NCG three years earlier than planned for “personal reasons”.
The ex-chief executive of the government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency has led the group’s board since 2018 and was supposed to end his term in 2026. However, he took a leave of absence from the role in March following a family bereavement and officially stood down in July.
He’s been replaced by John Widdowson following a “competitive process”, NCG said. Widdowson is a former college principal and president of the Association of Colleges. He joined the NCG board in 2020 and was its vice chair prior to this new role. His term as chair will be for an initial four-year period.
Lauener is also chair of the Student Loans Company and the Construction Industry Training Board – both of which are non-departmental public bodies of the Department for Education. Lauener said he will see out his term of office at both organisations, which runs until 2026.
He will also stay on as chair of Orchard Hill College, an independent special education college for 16- to- 25-year-olds in outer London.
He joined NCG five years ago at a tumultuous time for the group amid low achievement rates, staff strikes, the closure of its two troubled training providers that led to hundreds of redundancies, huge deficits and Ofsted downgrading the group to ‘requires improvement’.
Lauener told FE Week he was “pleased to have seen sustained progress” since then with the appointment of a “great” chief executive – Liz Bromley – in 2019, a ‘good’ Ofsted judgement in 2022, and restored to “sound” financial health.
He also celebrated NCG’s success in securing indefinite degree-awarding powers this year – the first college in the country to do so.
The group is, however, currently locked in an £8 million clawback dispute with the ESFA due to alleged funding claim errors between 2018/19 and 2020/21 – the first three years of Lauener’s term as chair.
NCG said the dispute, which is still ongoing, had nothing to do with Lauener’s departure.
Lauener is also currently involved in a lawsuit with former apprenticeship giant 3aaa’s co-founder Peter Marples, in his capacity as the former head of the then Skills Funding Agency.
Commenting on his exit from NCG, Lauener said: “For personal reasons related to a family bereavement I needed to free up some of my time and initially I took a few months leave of absence to deal with matters. But I then decided that it would be better to step back fully and was delighted that John Widdowson, who was already vice chair, was able to take on the role of chair.
“I will continue to support the NCG model but now as a former chair and I expect to see NCG go from strength to strength in coming years.”