City of Glasgow College will be 'shop window for learning'

11th June 2010 at 01:00

The educational Institute of Scotland may believe that there is no convincing educational rationale for the City of Glasgow College, but principal designate Paul Little believes that very rationale is at the heart of the entire enterprise - more important even than the building of two new campuses.

In an interview with The TESS, Mr Little, who oversaw the creation of six colleges into one in his previous job in Northern Ireland, says that the buildings are being designed with learning specifically in mind. "Our brief to the architects was for a building that doesn't just look great, but works great," he says.

Some of the colleges' existing facilities, such as the bakery, the travel company and the hair salon, will be brought together on the ground floor - for educational purposes. "The aim is that it will be constructed in such a way as to attract disengaged students but also to encourage the public to come in and do business," Mr Little says. "It will be a shop window for the college and for learning."

The new principal is nothing if not evangelical, describing the college as "metropolitan in size (building up to 60,000 students), cosmopolitan in feel (135 different nationalities cross the doors at present), international in outlook (engaging in applied research, global partnerships and knowledge exchange) and individual in approach".

The college aims to be among the top 10 performers in Scotland, the UK and beyond, benchmarked against the best in the world, Mr Little says.

But he acknowledges there is a job to be done in harmonising what he calls "three different cultures and three strong brands" - never mind lecturers' pay and conditions. There has even been a "cultural due diligence" carried out in addition to the legal and financial checks which the new college is required to do.

Mr Little is adamant that staff concerns are uppermost, not least because "you can raise the bar in performance through management action by only 30 per cent". He wants to preside over what he calls a "motivated merger" which the staff buy into fully. A principal psychologist has even been brought in from Glasgow City Council to advise on their well-being.

In addition, communications "facilitators" have been appointed, there is a weekly update on progress from the principal, and a micro-site on the college intranet has been established to deal with all merger issues.

"The lesson from my experience is that people make mergers work, documents don't," he said.

Although management is confident that it is close to signing a "recognition and procedures agreement" with the EIS and Unison, Mr Little admits that negotiations on bringing into line staff pay and conditions in the three colleges are at a "sensitive stage".

This is particularly the case over the thorny issue of class contact, with management wanting something close to 24 hours a week and the unions aspiring to 21 hours, which Mr Little says is "simply not affordable, especially in the current economic climate".

The principal designate says he aims to have an "open door" to staff, adding: "I try to operate a policy of no surprises."

How the unions will interpret that is anybody's guess.

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