Mike Austin, agony uncle, answers your queries

More chiefs than Indians


After 15 years as a lecturer, I realise I should have been an administrator. That is where the majority of jobs are - and well paid ones, too. Lecturers are now an endangered species. Is it the same story elsewhere?


Yes, the proportion of lecturers on the payroll is smaller than it was. Colleges also spend less on chalk and more on childcare. Their annual spend on computers now exceeds that on epidiascopes. The world has moved on, and so has the process of education. There has been a shift from teaching to learning.

I would bet my personal coffee fund that in your college there are now lots of learning support workers, facilitators and workshop managers. They are as close to helping students learn as any lecturer, but are often categorised as administrators. They are usually on lower salaries than lecturers, too.

By the way, would you say that lecturing - delivering a 50-minute soundbite to a class of skilled note-takers - is what you do these days? Why don't we call you all teachers and be done with it?



We now have to ask students whether they have a criminal record to claim extra funding under the widening participation agenda. Does it still apply when a college has a contract to provide education in a local prison?


Yes, there is extra money available for dealing with ex-offenders. It's a nice point whether you really have to put the question to someone actually doing bird at the time, but to be on the safe side you probably need to work it into your getting-to-know-you chat. If any prisoner comes on to college premises as part of a pre-release programme, say, you will need a policy about whom they come in contact with, for reasons of your duty of care to students and staff. Watch out for Mr K Noye enrolling on Advanced Driving Techniques.



I've read in the press that the FEFC will find some early retirements this year. Where do I sign?


Hold your horses, and your pen. The FEFC may put up some of the money for the enhancement of lump sums. It is not going to help with the increased cost of enhancing the pension itself: that falls to the college. Some will, some won't. If you are old enough to remember how schemes for early retirement work, you knowthat it's not first come, first served. There is the delightfully vague criterion of the "efficiency of the service".

Will the college be a better place for your departure? If you are really keen to go, even before the new Learning and Skills Councils have transformed your life, you need to ask to be observed in the classroom as part of the college's quality system, and then teach a few really appalling lessons; you need to make sure that student numbers are declining rapidly in your area of work; and you need to make sure that you are not IT literate. If you've got time to work up a poor attendance record as well that will help.


We always have trouble finding a student governor. This year we have had to find two, because the first became a non-retention statistic. The survivor finishes her course before the last corporation meeting of the college year. Can we just roll her over into the next year, when she will enrol on a new course?


Sorry, no you can't. Staff and student governors lose office the moment that their status changes. Former students can't be governors until they become students again. Paragraph 9 (3) of the Instrument of Government covers this point. It would obviously be helpful if she could be re-elected as soon as she re-enrols, and for guidance on how to ensure that your favoured candidate gets elected, try the Labour Party London Mayoral Campaign office.



Can you advise on the legality of raising income for colleges? Things are getting desperate here. Any tips that you can pass on?


I know a principal of a large but financially struggling college who was approached by a Bombay-based bookmaker trying to set up odds on individual college success rates. What he wanted to know was whether there were any performance indicators that might make a safe basis for a bet. Could the principal, say, let him know when retention was starting to slip?

If a group of students were - totally inadvertently - not entered for an examination, that would depress the achievement rate, wouldn't it? He was ready to offer a fat fee for some early advice.

Just how desperate are you? Have you thought about letting out your buildings for a summer-long Moonie conference?

Mike Austin is principal of Accrington and Rossendale College

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