Is no pay putting off potential governors?

22nd December 2006 at 00:00
WHY IS it that so many governors are over 50 - indeed, over 60 - and retired or semi-retired? Not to mention white, and the great majority of them men.

As each day passes, I'm more and more sure that age brings with it great wisdom, so I am hardly suggesting that we don't want people involved who can bring their all their experience to bear on the important job of governance in colleges.

But you don't need to get into all the complications of how "representative" governing bodies should be to feel uncomfortable that we are so badly out of line with what our student bodies look like. I think we've made pretty feeble progress so far, as a sector, in getting a more diverse group of governors, and want therefore to ask whether we might make more progress if we paid governors.

When the Institute of Volunteering Research (IVR) published its first research report on governance and diversity last year I was surprised to find that I count as a minority.

I am after all, a white, 50-year-old man, Oxbridge-educated, middle class, professional and as such am about as far away from being a member of an oppressed minority as it is possible to be.

But I run a small business and that's what got me my ticket. As a small business owner-manager, I am fairly unusual in FE governance circles. But as someone whose business - an 8-employee public sector consultancy - is dependent on my personal and full-time contribution, giving up a couple of days to attend the national conference is a burden.

That, surely, is why we see so many people as chairmen who are retired, or semi-retired. I'm personalising this to make a point. I chose to accept this role and I'm fortunate to be able to afford to do so, though it's not easy, but the crucial question is: are others put off from joining us because they cannot afford to do so?

And do those who are put off, come disproportionately from groups we would like to see better represented on college corporations? Whenever the question is asked, governors, by a large majority, oppose the idea that they should be paid. But the question is always asked of existing governors, and not of those who might like to join us given half a chance.

The premise of the IVR research is one of volunteering. If the Government had wanted a dynamic commercial future for the Royal Opera House, it would have asked Cameron Mackintosh what to do. It asked a grandee and got recommendations for more subsidy.

So it is with governance. I don't mean to be in the least critical of a valuable and thoughtful report from IVR, and commend its latest report, but an organisation set up with a focus on volunteering is never going to make a prime recommendation that "volunteers" should be paid.

If we're honest, our collective reaction to the various reports on the diversity of governors is a gentle shrug of the shoulders. That's why I want to ask whether it would help us to make real progress on diversity if we paid governors? And I do mean "paid": not a genteel honorarium, but proper money which might genuinely compensate someone, or their employer, for making a serious time commitment, and therefore make it possible for them to do so.

Iain Mackinnon is chairman of Ealing, Hammersmith and West London college

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