Battling duo fail to woo colleges

12th April 1996 at 01:00
The two key contenders in the race to lead a new national colleges' body have suffered setbacks in consultations on the proposal.

Many colleges responding to a sector-wide consultation on the merger of the Association for Colleges and the Colleges' Employers' Forum demanded a nationwide trawl for more candidates for a new leader.

Many called for a new broom to head the merged organisation - provisionally called the Association of British Colleges - instead of CEF chief executive Roger Ward or AFC counterpart Ruth Gee.

The consultation, the results of which have been leaked to The TES, also revealed broad support for swift creation of a single voice for further education, but highlighted desires to keep membership costs as low as possible.

On five specific issues dividing the two partners in the troubled merger negotiations, a majority of colleges opted to follow employers' guidance.

The trend will be seized on by the CEF, which infuriated the AFC by issuing specific guidelines to members on how to vote, as evidence that the sector wants its combative style to set the tone for the new body.

Of 214 colleges responding - less than half the sector - two-thirds called for the voting system for board membership to follow the CEF model. They want elections to be carried out on a first-past-the-post basis, rather than the single transferable vote system currently used by AFC.

The same proportion also voted against proposals for a "second tier" at regional level within the new organisation, in line with CEF advice but against the AFC's.

The consultation, carried out by law firm Eversheds, exposes widespread unease throughout the sector over the potential cost of membership of the new body. College after college underlines the need to keep fees below the level of joint subscriptions of CEF and AFC.

Some even say the merger may be scuppered if costs are too high. A comment from Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies reads: "I hope these subscription increases really are modest otherwise many of the 125 CEF member colleges may seek to set up a breakaway group."

North Birmingham College adds: "If the new subscription level for the joint organisation is substantially higher than the present CEF subscription, then this may influence whether or not smaller colleges become members of ABC. "

In a response highlighting continuing uncertainty over how far the new body can truly claim the right to speak on behalf of colleges throughout Britain, Welsh colleges have underlined their concern that Fforwm, their regional AFC equivalent, should run alongside ABC.

Llandrillo College calls for lower subscription rates for Welsh colleges. ABC must recognise Fforwm's "separate and unique service" or "it will have fragmented membership in Wales".

The consultation also reflects concern over the danger, reported in The TES last week, of alienating the Scots, who have their own newly-merged representative body, the Association of Scottish Colleges. East Surrey College points out that "what is proposed is largely English not British. If I were a Scot I would feel insulted".

Scottish colleges are threatening to object to the use of the name ABC, claiming the word British is inappropriate. Sixteen colleges in the England and Wales consultation also object, with many calling for the phrase "further education" to be incorporated. Others simply describe the acronym as "trite" or "naff", and one suggests possible confusion with supermarket chain Safeway's bonus scheme.

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