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Clear tips for fund holders

A GUIDE TO COLLEGE RESOURCE AND FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT. by Bob Lawrence. Pounds 13.95. Falmer Press. ISBN - 0 7507 0446 2

Resources are limited in relation to people's wants. This is the first lesson of economics and will be firmly rooted in the mind of every student following even the most rudimentary course in the subject.

Anyone working in further education post incorporation will also be acutely aware of this basic tenet. Management's role is to ensure cost effective use of finite resources to achieve organisational goals.

It means reconciling the diverse needs of stake holders that include students, staff, the Further Education Funding Council, the local community and central government. The task is often a source of angst for ex-teacher executives and governors without a financial background.

Bob Lawrence's book aims to help. It would be worrying if senior managers in colleges were not already familiar with its contents as it is heavily focused on FEFC requirements.

For others, the book contains a useful guide to sound resource management procedures.

It is essentially a series of checklists highlighting the steps that need to be taken and the data college managers should have available to underpin their decisions.

The book contains eight sections covering different aspects of resource and financial management. Each section ends with exercises encouraging readers to gather information about their college.

This has a valuable spin-off: resource and finance managers who hold the information are given an added incentive to communicate effectively. They are notorious for allowing the jargon of the "expert" to shroud their work with an aura of mystery which the lay person finds impossible to penetrate.

The strength of Lawrence's book is its accessibility. The text is clearly written and broken down into short topic areas which draw the reader's attention to essential points. Diagrams are often used to provide an overview of procedures.

A weakness of the book lies in its failure to augment what is often quite dry information with case studies and problem-solving exercises. Implementing procedures and gathering data are the first stages in resource management.

There is a danger, however, that performance indicators and benchmark statistics produced by a college's management information system will simply gather dust.

The difficult part of resource management is deciding what to do with the data. As Lawrence says: "It is vital to remember that the production of indicators is not action. It is the use to which the indicators are put that is important."

Examples of successful action and the consequences of the failure to act appropriately would enhance the text. Similarly the scope of the exercises might have been extended to include problem solving. Closing the gap between where a college is and where it wants to be is difficult. Bob Lawrence will be conscious of the practical constraints associated with implementing strategies which aim to move a college forward by managing resources more effectively.

There is always more than one solution and none of them is perfect. Economists cannot agree on the best way to achieve efficiency; it would be unreasonable to expect more of college managers.

John Harris is director of human resources at Stanmore College

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