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Champion who must change our world

Ray Dowd has turned around four failing colleges in his 25-year further education career. He must now turn around the entire sector.

He quits as principal of Wirral college, Merseyside, in six weeks to become the Learning and Skills Council "Champion" for change. His task is to see through major reforms spelled out in the policy paper Agenda for Change.

Principals have done similar jobs in the past - but on a far smaller scale.

Sir George Sweeney of Knowsley College, had the relatively simple task of finding ways to slash bureaucracy by a quarter.

The seven-point programme facing Mr Dowd is daunting. It includes cutting bureaucracy, improving quality, simplifying data collection, creating colleges that employers value and improving the reputation of the sector.

Many will see his brief as a poisoned chalice. It involves "challenging the sector and holding the LSC to account to achieve the changes required". He will reporting directly to Mark Haysom, LSC chief executive.

But Mr Dowd seems unfazed. "It is right that a principal is appointed to the job," he said. "The strategy for Agenda for Change came out of consultations with principals."

He knows pressures for more change will come in the spring with the Government's response to the Foster review and Lord Leitch's report on skills. But it is how they relate to the Agenda for Change that matters, he insists.

Mr Dowd made his name as a trouble-shooter - turning round failing Hopwood Hall college, Manchester, in the mid-1990s, then Wirral college, which had debts of pound;14 million. While doing so, he also took time out to rescue Salisbury and Halton colleges.

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