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The challenging role of speaker for the sector

Does the Association of Colleges really need a president? It was a question asked by many in the run up to the appointment of the AoC's first president, David Collins, a year ago this month.

A year on, surely there can be little argument over the benefits bestowed by a president in general and, more specifically, the success of Dr Collins's tenure so far.

The question now is who has the ambition, vision and sheer bottle to step up and take the job next? Make no mistake, the victor will preside over a college sector facing one of the most tumultuous periods in its history.

The abolition of the Learning and Skills Council and reversion of 14 to 19 education to local authority control, the reskilling agenda, the continuing problems over capital funding and the recession would each, on their own, present the new president with major leadership challenges. Together they demand an extraordinary collective response from the sector.

Add to this the continuing challenges and opportunities for the sector as it professionalises teaching, improves quality, raises its capacity for self-improvement and seeks greater autonomy, and the role of president could start to seem a wee bit daunting.

Extraordinary times demand extraordinary people, and the college sector is not without its share of luminaries, visionaries and inspirational leaders. It is to be hoped that some of them will rise to the challenge.

The presidency is a part-time post, and whoever accepts it still runs their college and deals with issues every day. The elected presidency confers additional authority on the association to speak on behalf of further education colleges.

This is surely invaluable when it comes to representing colleges in policy discussions. The capacity to remind politicians and policymakers of what is actually happening, in contrast to the view from Whitehall, should not be underestimated.

What will be interesting to see is how the various college groupings jockey for position in the election race. It would be no surprise if there was at least one candidate from the 157 Group, with its stated aims of setting a leadership example for FE and enhancing the reputation of the sector as a whole - both aims worthy of an AoC president.

The only risk is if political interest - and let's face it, there is no getting away from politics in elections - were to determine the outcome of the election, regardless of candidates' suitability and the views of the sector as a whole.

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