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Central acts to clear the air

An independent panel is to be set up to investigate the running of Central College of Commerce in Glasgow, The TES Scotland has learnt.

But, while this has been agreed between the Scottish Further Education Funding Council and the board of management, the college insists that the panel is its own initiative. "We are confident in our procedures and are happy to have them looked at in this way in light of all the allegations that have been going around," a spokesman said.

The establishment of the panel, whose members will be announced in the next two to three weeks, follows severe criticism by an employment tribunal which found last year that Jim O'Donovan, one of the college's lecturers, who is national president of the Further Education Lecturers' Association, had been unfairly dismissed.

A spokesperson for the funding council said that this was the first time such a device had been used. The panel, probably consisting of three members and funded by the SFEFC, will be appointed through an independent "head-hunter" and will be independent of the council and the college.

Its remit would be confined to governance and management procedures at Central College and how these affected the way the O'Donovan case was handled.

The council says that the panel's job is not to comment on the tribunal's decision and the spokesperson added: "Our role relates to our duty to ensure there is public accountability in the use of public funds. We have no role in relations between employer and employee, and people have to be clear about that."

These moves at Central College represent the first step of a harder line to allay public concern over management difficulties in colleges. The funding council has already met the Association of Scottish Colleges to discuss how to handle "incidences of apparent significant failure in a college's governance or high-level management, should they arise".

The council's meeting in July stressed "the need to ensure that there is confidence in college boards of management".

Roger McClure, the funding council's chief executive, signalled his determination two years ago to act where a college's procedures were seriously criticised by an employment tribunal.

Since then, however, the council has - at least in public - adopted a consensual tone, emphasising that its intention is to "support" college boards in their determination to ensure procedures are operating well, "neither investigating nor intervening", as one put it.

Meanwhile Mr O'Donovan has still not been reinstated, although the tribunal has urged that he should be. The college spokesman said the tribunal's judgment is regarded as "incomplete" and its chairman has invited both parties to return to discuss "the practicalities of reinstatement", at a date yet to be decided.

Marian Healy, further and higher education officer of the Educational Institute of Scotland, to which the FE union belongs, expressed concern at delays in settling the case, and fears it could now be January before another hearing can take place.

"Jim is a relatively young man and he finds himself in the position where he can't move on until either he is reinstated or receives compensation, which is totally unacceptable," Ms Healy said.

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