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Spotlight falls on balance of power

The spotlight is being turned on college management after a top-level admission that the actions of some corporations would not stand up to public scrutiny.

Governing body membership and the balance of power between the chair and college principal are key issues to be examined by the Further Education Funding Council.

Plans for the investigation, revealed by FEFC chief executive Sir William Stubbs at two college conferences in the past fortnight, emerged as a new survey on the structure of governing bodies shows 25 out of the 200 responding have no staff representatives.

Eighty colleges in the sample have no students on their corporations, the research by the Colleges' Employers' Forum shows, while 94 - almost half - have no community members.

Sir William told members of the Association for Colleges and the Sixth Form Colleges Association, that the FEFC was coming under growing pressure to comment on corporations' so-called "democratic deficit" - a failure adequately to represent all interests.

He told sixth-form principals there was mounting concern over the relationship between principals and chairs of governors. The council was examining the extent to which principals were left vulnerable by governors dissatisfied with their work. Some had been forced out in ways he felt might not stand up to public scrutiny.

At both meetings, Sir William advised colleges to take steps to counter criticisms over democratic responsibility. They could "help themselves" by appointing at least one member of an elected public body to their boards, providing a register of members' interests and drawing up a governors' code of conduct.

Moves by the FEFC to ensure corporations are seen to have tight controls in place reflect the attention being paid to their activities by Lord Nolan's Committee on Standards in Public Life.

The CEF survey found 250 vacancies among 200 colleges but, CEF chief executive Roger Ward insists the evidence gathered indicates corporations are generally working successfully and denies further controls are needed.

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