And on the eighth day God created the FE monster...

26th January 1996 at 00:00
And on the eighth day God created ... FE! From out of nowhere He found (for God was most definitely a He in those days) some old buildings that no one else wanted, and filled them to the brim with students that no one wanted either, and He said: "Let them be called further education colleges."

Then He created men in his own image to rule over these forsaken multitudes and He said: "Let them be called principals." And when He looked again He saw that they were indeed in his own image; for these men were lords in their own kingdoms, and often brought down woe and pestilence upon their subordinates.

And then He subdivided the kingdoms and created other men to have dominion over the divisions, giving to each a pipe (and breath to match) and a degree in a subject no one had ever heard of. And He said: "Let them be called heads of departments."

And then (to show He had a sense of humour) He created yet more men; and to these He gave the name of vice principals; and to each kingdom He allotted one vice-principal, and ordained that they should do the bidding of their lord and master, the principal.

And of all men these were the most cursed, doomed for ever to wander the byways of their college with a silly grin on their face, or sit filling in application forms for principals' jobs the length and breadth of the land. For there was no work for these men, save for the crumbs which the principals might drop from their tables, of times known as "being in charge of the toilets".

God looked upon his new colleges and saw that they were good (or at least they were not bad, given that they weren't schools or universities). And God said unto his principals: these are my chosen structures. Mess with them at your peril. And then He took up more weighty matters, such as deciding what shape Africa would be, or how many brain cells to give to Ronald Reagan.

But when God turned his face once more to his creations, He saw that his principals had ignored his commandments. For verily they had messed with his structures all over the place. Some had tossed the whole organisation up in the air to see where the pieces would fall. And when they saw that they fell like a telephone exchange with all the wires crossed, they said (like their God before them) that this was good. And they called this a matrix system.

But for most principals such modest structures were not what they coveted. For by now they were principals no longer, having puffed themselves up with money and vainglory into chief executives, and required something on a grander scale than matrices over which to rule. And lo, they took their departments and welded them severally together, and said let them be called faculties. And over each faculty was set to rule a head of faculty, often indistinguishable from the old head of department, except in the matter of salary and pipe-smoking.

But soon some faculties had grown as large as the kingdoms themselves had once been, and the heads as remote as the chief executives (and almost as wealthy). So now the chief executives fell to dividing the faculties once more, and (resisting the temptation to call them departments) dreamed up new names such as schools and sections and divisions. And over each school they set a new head, to be called a manager. And to each manager they gave a large bag of cash, and a mobile phone and a personalised space in the car park.

God knew now that some collective madness had come over his creations, and marvelled at the funds they must have in order to implement such folly. Even his old court jesters, the vice-principals, could provide him with no solace. For where once there had been one, now there were five or six to every kingdom, roaming the corridors in packs, muttering meaningless phrases such as units of funding and customer care and total quality management. And they were merry no longer, given the tasks the Government of the day had heaped upon their shoulders, none of which seemed to have anything to do with students or classes or education.

For many long days and nights God pondered on whether He should send plagues of locusts or frogs or worse to vex the chief executives and punish their overweening pride. But then He heard the lamentations of the lecturers, and realised it was too late to bring death to their doorsteps, the chief executives having beaten him to it with cruel instruments they called redundancy notices.

So then God decided to leave well alone. For all the evidence of his eyes told him that FE and its rulers were perfectly capable of punishing themselves.

Stephen Jones is a London college lecturer.

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