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The invasion of the management gurus

We live in the age of management gurus and all the theories that flow from them. Many of the ideas and theories being foisted on colleges are transient and of dubious value and yet this country seems to be increasingly obsessed with them.

The latest one is PFI - the Private Finance Initiative which aims to get industry to invest in college buildings and services. I get a letter a day from gurus and consultants promising to take the load off my mind. I already have a file of 40 to 45 letters from firms offering PFI services.

Tie your college into the consultancy culture and the bill is as long as a piece of string. They charge Pounds 500 to Pounds 1,000 a day for an initial three to five days and you find all manner of "necessary return visits" to be paid for.

The rapid growth and current influence of private consultants across vast tracts of employment stems from the Government's market philosophy and the quango-cracy that now dominates all our lives. They generate and spin their own jargon, like "downsizing", "rightsizing", "outsourcing", which in turn seems to develop an undeserving and disproportionate sense of importance in the minds of managers.

This sort of mythology is generated by the gurus and many colleges now pay massive sums of money towards what I believe is in danger of becoming a new dependency culture, dominating and determining the way organisations operate. This encourages our poor economic performance. Consultants and numerous local organisations bombard colleges with literature on everything from human resource management to property development.

The impression is that to ignore them will bring ruin. Expensive conferences and symposia to hear from the gurus how their companies can become world class are just the beginning. Incomplete specifications are drawn up, so return business is guaranteed.

The companies are then inundated with reports with vast amounts of data, much of which is already known to the company but packaged in a seductive fashion. Final reports and recommendations again leave loose ends which require renewed contracts and further expenditure.

Evidence from the health authorities, British Rail, the public utilities and, increasingly, education, shows that very little seems to have improved. Only the consultants seem to gain.

External consultants, especially from a larger company, have no responsibility to the college. All they are doing is generating income for themselves and their organisation.

Once their work is done, they leave and it is up to the managers then to try and implement the ideas. It is far better, with the limited resources available, to capitalise wherever possible on one's own staff to improve a college's performance.

Dick Evans is principal of Stockport College of Further and Higher Education

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