PLANS are in hand to develop a government-backed PhD for college principals to raise the sector's status.
The Further Education Development Agency has been discussing the idea with civil servants, college principals and some universities.
Dr Graham Peeke, manager of the FEDA's centre for professional development, says that many college leaders feel a doctorate for principals would also foster the growth of a research culture.
Dr Peeke said: "There is a strong belief that the whole of FE is under-theorised. We draw very heavily on what is going on in schools to try to understand what is happening in FE and that may not be appropriate.
"It's the same thing with management. There is a big generic body of theory about management out there, but the stuff that is specific to managing the FE sector is virtually non-existent."
The centre, which is based in London, already offers a leadership programme for aspiring principals run jointly with the Association of Colleges. This is a development programme which consists of four training weeks a year.
The programme begins with personality tests, appraisals and case studies to assess strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the first week the trainees go away with personal action plans.
For the past six years middle and senior college managers have also been able to study for an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) that has been tailored for FE managers.
Another key training target is college governors. In the wake of problems experienced by colleges like Halton, there is a growing feeling that governors need to be more on the ball.
Dr Peeke said: "Governors need to be a bit more able to take the reins rather than be hoodwinked by the principalship of a
The Further Education Funding Council is drawing up specifications for governor training. The idea will be that organisations such as FEDA will be able to bid to offer elements of governor training.
The Department for Education and Employment has announced that a compulsory qualification for principals will be introduced in 2001. The professional development centre is to help design the qualification.
Dr Peeke added that the Government's recent White Paper, Learning To Succeed, has created a much expanded market for the centre.
In future the centre will aspire to provide professional development training not only for FE teachers and managers but also for adult and community educators who have lacked opportunities to update their teaching and managerial skills.
"The whole idea of developing individual's professional skills and knowledge," Dr Peeke said, "is that they will make a more effective contribution either as teachers or managers to the organisation they work for and therefore we will ultimately be able to raise quality."