Colleges emphasise need for transparency

18th February 2000 at 00:00
PRECISE procedures would have to be laid down if the Secretary of State sought powers to intervene in college affairs, the Government has been warned.

David Gibson, chief executive of the Association of Colleges said his organisation was not against early intervention if a college was getting into difficulties.

"But any intervention has to be according to transparent procedures," he said. "All governing bodies would need to know what would have to happen to cause intervention."

Mr Gibson, talking to a lecturers' training conference, outlined some of his fears for the Learning and Skills Bill, now in committee stage in the House of Lords.

He was concerned that there would be restrictions on the power of colleges to form companies, or that such companies could not be used directly to cover education and training. Their use might only cover the production of learning materials, for example.

"Colleges create companies not to cover something up, but to keep them separate from the main institution. I cannot believe the intention is not to have these companies because they have been successful in very many cases."

According to the association, the charitable status of corporations imposes constraints on what a college can do commercially. Many have set up companies to undertake traiing activities of a kind not possible for a corporation to do itself, usually with any profits covenanted back.

Mr Gibson also pointed out the extensive work colleges undertake with small and medium-sized businesses, which seemed to have been ignored by the government. He said some colleges had dealt with more than 500 businesses in one year, and one had collaborated with up to 900. But the college work was not being recognised.

The AOC is also concerned about the power of the Learning and Skills Council to set fees. "It is difficult to see how any national fee scheme could work, " said Mr Gibson. "Market conditions vary enormously... relatively high fees might be feasible in the South-east, but could have a disastrous effect on participation in depressed areas such as Merseyside."

Mr Gibson said the common theme in amendments they sought was to "moderate the assumption of greater powers than are necessary to the proper management of the sector".

At the same conference Malcolm Wicks, the lifelong learning minister, launched a consultation paper on a new qualifications policy for the FE sector, including a new professional body.

The intention was to "embed continuous professional development into the sector as a more systematic and considered part of teachers' careers".

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