AN OVERWHELMING regulatory burden has provoked the worst-ever national shortage of college governors.
A UK-wide survey carried out by FE Focus has revealed a 12 per cent shortfall. Increased government regulation, bureaucracy and onerous duties are cited as the main cause in almost 60 per cent of colleges.
Recent reforms to college corporations have not helped. The cut in business governors from "at least a half" to "a maximum of one-third" has removed vital talent from boards, say colleges.
Most insist that the shortage is not yet a crisis, although a third (32 per cent) of colleges have between three and five vacancies (see table on page II).
Almost half the colleges said they had problems filling vacancies long-term - taking between six months and two years to do so. Four out of ten said it was getting harder to recruit. Only one in 100 said that it was getting easier.
The survey was based on written questionnaires to 100 colleges in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with follow-up interviews.
Many colleges admitted holding posts open while they grappled with the Government's latest post-16 reforms. But this accounts for only a quarter of the vacancies, which would still leave a real shortfall of 9 per cent.
The crackdown on allowances is also hitting recruitment. Many insist that local discretion over payments will have to be agreed if the Government is to stave off a recruitment crisis.
Jocelyn Prudence, employment director at the Association of Colleges, said:
"The findings of your survey accord with what we hear anecdotally. It is an increasingly onerous an burdensome job. The idea of some recompense for people who take on these duties is one that should be explored further.
"Public appointments, such as on hospital trusts, are advertised with daily allowances. If people attracted to public life see a post for one or two days a week, with an allowance why should they pick the college instead?"
Universities are able to pay allowances. For example, the chair of the board at Manchester Metropolitan University picks up pound;8,000 a year plus travel expenses. Health trusts and other quangos pay up to pound;5,000.
The Further Education Funding Council is also looking at recruitment issues, partly through the good governance group it set up last year. A council spokesman said: "There is not a crisis but we do recognise it as being an issue. The Government must recognise it, otherwise it would not be putting large chunks of money into governor training."
New induction and training programmes for governors start this year, funded through pound;35 million set aside from the Government's Standards Fund. All the governors interviewed for the survey agreed that this would help but would not solve the problem.
Training would help colleges retain governors. Most colleges (85 per cent) expect board members to serve three to four years. One in four do not stay beyond three years. Moreover, a fifth of governors do not attend regularly.
There is a consensus that governors need improved status. One chair of governors said: "As volunteers, their contribution is undervalued. As things are at the moment, why would someone wish to take the role on?"
Full report, II