DAVID Melville, outgoing chief executive of the Further Education Funding Council, has come round full circle from a Russell Group university, to a polytechnic which became a new university, to further education and now to Kent, where he takes over in the autumn as vice-chancellor of the university.
His four years at the funding council have given him invaluable experience to help cope with the challenges facing higher education. "If you are going to change HE, then you need to be taking benefit from the changes that have gone on in FE, particularly in widening participation.
"In some areas of the country, 90 per cent of 18-year-olds will go to university, but in other parts it will only be 0 per cent. You have to focus on those areas where there is no tradition of HE and you cannot do that without working with your FE neighbours."
He says one of the successes of the funding council was to shift the competitive approach between colleges, to one of collaboration. It had helped to bring together a unified sector from a quite disparate group of LEA bodies.
"There are nearly one million more students inFE now than at the time of incorporation - that is remarkable in terms of human opportunity."
Another success, he said, was getting governors to concentrate on quality, rather than buildings - although he pointed out that 26 per cent of all buildings in FE had been replaced or refurbished during the council's existence. He said that one of the constraints had been that the sector had been unable to speak for itself and establish a political entity. But he saw signs that recently it had begun to show some clout, and that was very positive.
His only advice to the new Learning and Skills Council was to recognise that colleges were still the mainstay of all post-16 provision . "If the council continues to allow them to develop, that will form the basis of success for the LSC itself."
And what will he miss? "I have enjoyed enormously visiting the colleges, about 300 in four years. I will miss contact with a wide range of institutions, which has been weekly for me.
And I will not be getting trains to exotic locations such as Scunthorpe or Barrow-in-Furness. It will be Paris or Brussels for me."