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College on brink is set for survival

A large northern college has fought back from the brink of bankruptcy to win Further Education Funding Council approval this week for a five-year development plan.

Thomas Danby College in Leeds was one of two Yorkshire colleges which came near to closure. The college plunged Pounds 1.7 million into the red in 1994-95 as it spiralled into debt at the rate of Pounds 200,000 a month.

Senior staff member, Colin Couble, became acting chief executive last autumn and implemented a tough austerity package. The senior management team was cut from eight to three and 58 lecturers and support staff were shed by compulsory and voluntary redundancies.

Mr Couble blamed the lack of control over spending and inappropriate management systems for the mess. And even after the drastic measures, he warned staff that a future for the college could not be guaranteed.

"We still can't give that guarantee but we are as secure as any college in the FE sector," he told The TES. "I find the redundancies regrettable but the whole process was made easier by the co-operation of the staff."

The first signs that a turn-around was likely came when the college made "a modest financial surplus" in the current year. Mr Couble is now confident that the college will reach its expansion targets, having avoided a need for any significant cuts in courses.

Like Rotherham College, which was also on the brink of closure, he used external help to work out the rescue bid. But while Rotherham took emergency help from neighbouring Thomas Rotherham sixth-form college, Thomas Danby management called in local accountants John Gordon Walton to help draft the rescue plan.

The experience has made Mr Couble extremely angry over the Government's continual drive for efficiency saving, which he attacked as "dishonest" and "a euphemism for saying they want more for less."

While he was confident that Thomas Danby was out of trouble, he asked: "How long do the politicians think we can go on making these efficiency gains?

"We have arrived at the point in most colleges where teachers cannot teach more hours in a week and there are limits on the number of people we can cram into classrooms without losing the quality we are asked to assure and demonstrate."

The FEFC's approval for the rescue package has come as a relief to all staff since as recently as June, there was uncertainty over whether the college could survive another year.

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