All recruits are funding units now

29th September 2000 at 01:00
Anna Hughes writes the unofficial minutes of her governing body.

Everybody is looking sun-tanned and relaxed for the first meeting of the new academic year. We have a blessedly short agenda and soon reach the principal's report.

"Recruitment has gone very well indeed," begins Rex, the principal.

"An excellent yield of recruitment funding units," interrupts Silas, the financial director.

"But what about the quality of the new students?" asks Fergus, our university governor.

"Department heads seem well satisfied," says Rex.

Mary, the teacher-governor, throws a spanner in the works: "I am not happy with the pressure we have been put under to increase numbers at the expense of reducing entry criteria. It results in poor achievement and poor retention, plus extra hassle in the classroom."

"Achievement and retention units are vital to our funding" adds Silas, unwittingly supporting Mary against management.

Quickly averting a nasty incident, Fergus clarifies his question. "I was particularly interested in whether we have recruited more students from ethnic minorities and those who traditionally shunned further education."

"There's extra funding for them," beams Silas.

"We will be able to get a print-out on that next week" says Rex, evading the issue.

I know the reason why so chip in. "I believe the computer enrolment system went down during enrolment week and still isn't running properly. When I looked in on the enrolment on the Friday it seemed chotic, with tempers rising all round, and mountains of paperwork and long queues of frustrated students."

"It was most unfortunate," admits Rex, "but I am assured by our IT staff and the enrolment team that we will be fully operational tomorrow and all the enrolment records will be on the system within the week."

Charles, the industrialist governor, takes up the theme. "Economising on cheap computerised management systems is the road to disaster. But picking up Fergus's point, are we recruiting enough professional people for our accounting, business and marketing courses?" "It's about the same as last year," says Rex, happy to move on from the enrolment chaos.

"But that's not good enough," replies Charles. "Britain's prosperity depends on increasing the skills and numbers of professionals and managers in industry. That quirky promotional wrap-around on the local newspaper won't reach these people. You need some serious targeted marketing for these courses."

"Both our neighbouring colleges have complained that we are poaching their students," Rex offers in self-defence.

"That's not the point. I think you should look very seriously at a professional marketing department with a realistic budget for what is indeed a multi-million-pound business."

Silas smiles until he remembers that marketing is on the outgoing side of his balance sheet.

I sit there wondering whether our college will ever get the balance right between educational and financial interests.

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