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Problem solved - in a space module

This month sees the completion of a sea change in attitudes to running colleges. While staff are not required to train for senior posts, a national framework for management training is now ready, reports Neil Merrick

Managers at Loughborough College are about to raise their sights in a space-age attempt to improve problem-solving and communication. During the next nine months, more than 40 will attend training sessions at the Challenger Space Centre in nearby Leicester.

The centre, already a favourite with schoolchildren, is trying to develop a reputation for providing corporate development. Managers sit in the spaceship or at mission control with the separate teams aware that they must work together effectively if loss of life is to be avoided.

"Information sharing and problem-solving is essential for the mission to take place," says Stuart Jones, internal consultant for organisation and staff development at Loughborough.

Back on planet earth, the decisions facing the college are not quite so life-threatening. Yet Mr Jones blieves the exercises inside Challenger will assist Loughborough as it introduces self-directed work teams, with managers given greater autonomy over how they control budgets.

"We're keen to use constructive and powerful metaphors on how we change the style of management in the college," he says. "We hope to build up scenarios and transfer it to the day-to-day running of a department."

Mr Jones was appointed to the post at Loughborough in September 1999. A former IT lecturer, he had spent the previous five years running his own training company and is, therefore, able to lead many of the sessions laid on for managers and other staff.

In spite of his enthusiasm for the Challenger scheme, which will cost the college pound;700 per session, he understands why most colleges do not opt for "outward bound" programmes in the same way as private companies.

Such programmes normally cost up to pound;1,000 per day for each participant. "The companies running it don't necessarily give them the feedback to go into the real world," he says.

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