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Ebullient Ward gets top FE job

Roger Ward, the most controversial figure in further education, has been appointed to lead colleges into the 21st century.

Mr Ward, the former college employers' leader and scourge of the lecturers' unions, becomes chief executive of the newly-formed FE superbody, the Association of Colleges.

His appointment was greeted with relief by his supporters but prompted deep gloom among those less enamoured of his ebullient and often confrontational style. Referring to Mr Ward's well-documented extravagant tastes, one principal said: "This is a great result for the champagne industry but may not be as good for FE."

The new chief executive, who will run a Pounds 2.3 million-a-year organisation formed from the merger of the College Employers' Forum and the Association for Colleges, pledged to draw a line under past division between the two bodies.

He stressed the need for the single voice many believe is desperately needed if the cash-strapped FE sector is to win the ear of decision-makers in the battle for cash. His task would be to "lobby for an underfunded and undervalued sector that is the powerhouse of the British economy".

The profile-raising offensive will begin with a series of meetings at this autumn's party conferences. The AOC will have to act quickly to make its case before November's public-spending round, and to establish its credentials with all parties in the run-up to the general election.

The new organisation, representing FE colleges in England and Wales, will also need to bring sixth-form colleges on board and form partnerships with its counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland if it is to justify its claim to be a unified voice for the sector throughout the UK.

The lecturer union, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, which has clashed violently with Mr Ward in the prolonged battle over the introduction of new contracts, will not welcome his appointment, though his victory was widely expected.

General secretary John Akker called for a harmonious relationship between the AOC and college staff, but dismissed Mr Ward's claims that industrial relations issues are now a thing of the past in FE.

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