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Surveys reveal bias on governing boards

Women and ethnic minorities are being swept aside for big business interests on higher education college governing bodies, a survey by NATFHE has revealed.

The interim survey of over half the college boards was published at the annual conference. A national survey of FE colleges by The TES this week also shows the trend towards big-business interests with many colleges admitting that they are becoming "self-perpetuating oligarchies" of local worthies (see FE Update, centre pages).

The NATFHE survey shows that, despite its warnings in a similar survey on higher education two years ago, "the average number of women on governing bodies is approximately 19 per cent, and has remained almost unchanged since 1993".

In the six worst cases, fewer than one in 10 governors was a woman. The survey was extended to include ethnic minorities this year. It shows a similar lack of representation. Thirty-two colleges had none on their boards and eight had only one ethnic minority representative.

The TES survey shows that while FE college managers are conscious of the dangers of insularity and a jobs-for-the-boys approach, few took measures to break the pattern. Only three had advertised governing body posts to the wider community.

John Akker, general secretary of NATFHE, said the two surveys together were cause for alarm. He and other officials have seen Education Secretary Gillian Shephard and called for action.

"Gillian Shephard has expressed concern over the lack of representation by women, but she indicated that she was against any schedule being drafted into the legislation to guarantee places for women and ethnic minorities." Education minister Tim Boswell had also expressed concern, suggesting that the Government might launch its own inquiry.

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