Neil Merrick on the discrimination faced by black lecturers, and the principals who have succeeded against the odds
Wally Brown is most unusual as principal of City of Liverpool College - he is black.
When he was appointed seven years ago it was fairly common to find black people in charge of colleges, particularly in London. But following incorporation appointments were made by governing bodies not local authorities and the picture changed dramatically.
"LEAs had clear policies about equality of opportunity and dealing with the under-representation of black people," he says. "Since incorporation there has been no political momentum to develop and deal with these issues."
Today Mr Brown is one of just two black FE college principals in England and Wales. The other, Ahmed Choonara, was appointed principal of South Nottingham College 18 months ago.
According to Mr Brown, black lecturers feel isolated in many colleges because they do not receive support from senior managers. He praised the encouragement he had received as assistant principal of City College in Manchester prior to taking up his current post.
Those seeking promotion have to pick and choose which colleges to apply to, he adds. "They see some jobs advertised and know there is no point in applying because their application won't be treated reasonably."
Mr Brown heads a white senior management team, although the college has black middle and junior managers. Across the sector, he believes there are many black lecturers with relevant qualifications but they need help to deal with subtle discrimination.
When Mr Choonara started applying to be a principal in the early 1990s he was constantly rebuffed. Councillors ordered an investigation into procedures at one Leicestershire college to which he had applied which concluded that there had been discrimination. "I applied for several posts and then gave up," he says, agreeing that selection procedures were less transparent after incorporation.
"It was difficult to work out where discrimination took place."
But there is hope. In 1996, at the same time as he applied for the principal's post at South Nottingham, Mr Choonara was invited to interviews at two other colleges.
"There has been a change in the climate but things must improve further," he says. "Colleges are becoming more involved in economic regeneration. Very often that includes working with a sizeable black or ethnic minority community where black FE managers can play a significant role."