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Information kept under wraps

A quarter of FE colleges do not provide public access to non-confidential financial information or will not say whether they do so, according to a major national study of college governance, writes Lucy Ward.

The comprehensive survey commissioned by the Association of Colleges and FE bodies including the Further Education Funding Council reveals many colleges are failing to comply with articles of government.

That means they are also still falling short of some of the recommendations of the Nolan Committee on standards in public life.

The committee, which published a report on local public spending bodies earlier this year, laid down the basic principle that such organisations should be accountable to the communities they serve.

It said measures should include making agendas and minutes of governing body meetings widely available, publicising forthcoming meetings and holding an annual public meeting.

However, out of 209 colleges responding to the survey, 29 said they did not make non-confidential information available and 29 more declined to state their policy. Though 88 colleges hold annual public meetings, 115 do not. A total of 135 do not give staff and students access to board papers, while 157 do not open meetings to the public.

Though the survey, designed to produce a statistical snapshot of the composition and policies of governing bodies as the basis for a national database, has uncovered room for improvement, it also reveals many areas in which corporations have progressed since colleges became independent.

However, 90 per cent now have codes of conduct in place or in the pipeline, and more than 70 per cent have formal complaints procedures. Just over half have developed some formal self-assessment for the board and its members.

The survey also finds most colleges have maintained the size of their board since incorporation, and that numbers of vacant seats have stayed steady at around 7 per cent since a survey a year ago. Most governors are male, and the overwhelming majority are white.

The survey also reveals three-quarters of governing bodies have appointed a search committee to help find potential candidates to fill vacancies. However, the main recruitment methods for new governors continue to be networking and recommendation by the chair or principal.

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