When the volume of complaints over workload reaches a peak, there is only one way out for beleaguered politicians - hold an official inquiry. It matters little whether they act on the recommendations. The point is to distance controversy from the political arena and quell the native uprising.
Colleges have had more than their fair share of "inquiries" over the decade - into probity, bureaucracy, social inclusion, special needs and so on. So, when the latest, headed by the former Audit Commission chief, Sir Andrew Foster, was announced, there were loud cries of: "Not another review!"
But this one is different. What started as the murmur of an idea in the Department for Education and Skills grew to become the biggest inquiry ever into the state of FE. Sir Andrew is busy now rewriting the final script and will continue to be so almost to the eve of publication.
However, at the heart of his findings so far is a powerful message. The problems for FE come from "one thing being laid on another and another"
with little or nothing being taken away (see front page). Colleges cannot blame ministers for this. They need to be more ruthless in telling government what they can or cannot manage or afford.
Sir Andrew told FE Focus that everyone would need to "stay as objective and open-minded as they can" for "sober and sensible debate and consideration."
There would be no apportioning of blame in his final report, only a rationalisation of priorities. He seeks the holy grail of a "clearly-defined purpose" for FE.
It is clear that he will call for better use of resources, a clearer focus from each institution on what they do best and more thought to how each is managed and led.
If politicians did see this as just another inquiry to keep problems at arm's length, it is no longer so. Sir Andrew appears to be doing a job that should have been done before colleges were ever incorporated in 1993. When the final report emerges, it should be used as the basis of real continuing debate - and for action.