THE Commission on Black Staff in Further Education is confident of winning nearly half a million pounds in government funding to start its work.
Michael Peters, chair of the commission, met officials from the Department for Education and Employment last week and said: "The atmosphere was very positive and there is a strong commitment to support us."
The commission has set itself a formidable agenda. In its business plan Mr Peters, chief education officer for the city of York, says: "The commission will identify and analyse the current employment profile of black staff in further education and examine the factors that dissuade black people from, or encourage them into, careers in further education.
"So far we have been able to run on goodwill - not least from my employers. But if we want to do the job we have set ourselves, we need full-time professional staff to run the project and carry out the necessary research."
The operation has been costed at pound;429,000. Mr Peters said the institutional factors that undermined the progress of black people through the sector would be under scrutiny.
The commission is sponsored by the Further Education Funding Council, the Association of Colleges, the Network for Black Managers and the lecturers' union NATFHE.
The business plan called for an interim report by September, with a final report an recommendations next spring, ready for the creation of the Learning Skills Council next April.
The commission agrees that public-sector organisations must root out racism - a call made in the Macpherson report on the death of Stephen Lawrence.
Mr Peters said he was delighted that the Association of Colleges and the unions had responded positively.
David Gibson, the association's chief executive, and Paul Mackney, NATFHE general secretary, are commission members. "Without the involvement and commitment of those bodies we would have little chance of making any real impact where it matters, said Mr Peters.
"We know that around 15 per cent of FE students are from ethnic minorities but beyond that, even a body so adept at acquiring statistical information as the FEFC has found it difficult to assemble reliable data."
The commission plans witness days at colleges in Oldham, Birmingham, Woolwich and Bournemouth, where individuals will be invited to describe their experiences. Mr Peters says the issues are just as important in places like Bournemouth as in those with large black populations. The 23 invited witnesses include three ministers - Margaret Hodge, Malcolm Wicks and Mo Mowlam - Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner John Grieve, chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead and FEFC chief inspector Jim Donaldson.