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Governors' chairman defends controversial pound;18,600 Taiwan trip;FE Focus

GOVERNMENT double standards on public services are hampering colleges from taking legitimate risks and being entrepreneurial, the chairman of a college under investigation for high spending on overseas travel has claimed.

Laurence Hardwicke, chairman of Kingston College governors, has complained to the Further Education Funding Council about its handling of adverse publicity about the college's principal, Arthur Cotterell. The principal took his wife on a six-week student recruitment mission to Taiwan last year.

Mr Hardwicke told Lord Davies of Oldham, the FEFC chairman, that: "Mr Cotterell is every inch the entrepreneur and flexible public servant the Prime Minister has just called for. He deserves better treatment from the FEFC, as indeed does his very supportive governing body."

Mr Hardwicke was referring to press allegations of high living on the trip by the principal and his wife, Yong Yap, who is Chinese and acted as his interpreter in Taiwan. The mission had cost pound;18,600, said Mr Hardwicke, and was more than value for money.

"The whole story arose because of the ill-judged conduct of a staff governor in courting adverse publicity about the college," he said.

At a full board meeting last week, the staff governor, Rod Bromfield, defended his criticism of the cost of the visit.

He said: "I did not seek out the press, but the story could have come from any one of 100 members of staff who are demoralised and feel staff conditions and the quality of provision have deteriorated." He said the visit was made just as two departments were being merged and several lecturers, including himself, were losing their jobs.

But Mr Cotterell received solid backing from two industrial governors. Edward Bentall, chairman of a large local department store, said the college's standards of governance were as high as any in the public or private sectors. He had personally been encouraged by Lord Dearing to market the FE sector in the Far East, said Mr Bentall.

"You cannot do this by attending exhibitions, which we once tried, or by adverts, but by personal contact, as we do in our own businesses. We were very fortunate in having somebody available who is fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese," he said.

Richard Carter, a director of Ladbrokes Racing, said that the Taiwan visit was part of a long-term strategy, and was directly in line with the Government's initiative to recruit more overseas students to boost the economy.

He said: "To be an entrepreneur you have to take risks, but it was a calculated risk that was budgeted for - and the gamble has already paid off." He said the principal's wife should be thanked for her services.

But Mr Cotterell said after the meeting that he would think twice before undertaking an overseas mission with his wife again. "The Whistleblower's Charter is turning into a Malcontents' Manifesto. Anybody with a grudge or frustration in a college can bring the whole governing body into the dock and deter any future long-term investment of this kind," he said.

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