says Michael Davis, Chair of Governors Leicester College
In my report to Leicester College’s Annual General Meeting earlier this year, I spoke about some of the influencing factors on the college during the year and what we see as the main drivers for future development. I highlighted the breathtaking number of publications setting out Government policy in respect of post-16 learning and skills. The proposals set out are not minor tweaks to a simple set of arrangements. In fact, they make some pretty significant changes to a hugely complex system. For the FE sector, these changes represent seismic shifts in the landscape, the aftershocks of which will be felt for some time.
We will see the closure of the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), with funding for pre and post 19 learning split between local authorities and a supporting Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA), and the Skills Funding Agency (SFA). So, instead of managing its relationship with the LSC, we will now need to manage relationships with two organisations and local authorities. This, of course, is in addition to its new and different associations with Jobcentre Plus, Regional Development Agencies, and a multiplicity of sub regional agencies.
We are also seeing a significant shift in how resources are allocated, the ‘demand-led’ approach, with more money going to businesses to enable them to choose the training they want for their staff, albeit within certain constraints. On top of this, we have an expanding portfolio of funding from higher education, commercial work, the European Social Fund and tuition fees; we can expect greater competition and tighter accountability for all of these funding streams. Oh, and there is the small matter of the raising of the participation age to 18.
From a college’s point of view, there are two ways of looking at this increasing complexity. One is to do what elements of the FE sector have a habit of doing on such occasions; throw their hands up in the air, say it’s all too complicated and ask why can’t FE be left in peace.
Alternatively, and this is how our governing body have approached it, seeing this as a great opportunity for the sector to become genuinely self-determining. We cannot expect self regulation to be imposed from outside; by definition, it needs to happen from within each college. We ourselves need to be clear about our ‘question zero’: what is it we want to accomplish?
Multiple funding sources, conflicting strategies and probably competing priorities create space for innovation, collaboration, risk-taking and risk mitigation. All of which are vital ingredients if college corporations are to demonstrate their ability to meet the learning needs of their communities.
But a particular issue for us as a governing body is how do we make sure that what we see as our mission matches what our customers view it to be? How can we be locally accountable, particularly in light of the changes that are intended to bring about much tighter local planning? Or put another way, where does our legitimacy as a decision making body come from?
The formal answer lies in the College’s Instrument and Articles of Government. I use the analogy of a board of non-executive directors for any organisation; in that, the directors’ role is to act in the best interests of its shareholders. Directors are, in effect, an approximation of shareholder ‘voice’. For Leicester College we have essentially three types of share/stakeholders; learners, employers and the wider community. On our corporation, two governors are serving councillors, two elected by students and two by staff, but the rest were not elected by our stakeholders (including myself), yet it is fundamentally in their interests, I believe, that we are mandated to serve.
Good college governance is about demonstrating how the decisions we make are in the best interests of learners, employers and the wider community, and finding ways to hear from our stakeholders whether our leadership is taking the college in the right direction. The changes and shifts in funding and decision making to employers, individuals and local groupings will no doubt mean that the range of stakeholders is likely to expand. In such a landscape, accountability and responsiveness to them will be ever more critical to our success.
Michael Davis is Chair of Governors of Leicester College, Managing Director of CFE and Chairman of Lastolite.
This article appeared in the September edition of Policy Review.