Russel Griggs

22nd July 2011 at 01:00
A national review of college governance is likely to give principals the jitters, but Professor Griggs, the man heading up the review, says he wants to avoid `upping and downing' and get to the heart of good leadership. Photography by Chris James

How would you describe yourself?

I say what I think, I hope I am sensible, and I hope people understand that I have the best interests of the sector and my college in everything I say. I do what I believe I need to do for my college, Dumfries and Galloway, and for the sector.

How did you come to chair the review of college governance?

Michael Russell asked if I would do it, and we talked about what the remit would be, because I didn't want to just do another "here is what a board should do" review. I don't believe that is what governance is about. So we have to decide what it is we are trying to govern, how big or how small that is. We then have got to decide on the constitution, because governing a public body is different from governing a private body.

What are the skills you bring to this?

What people tell me I do well are jigsaw puzzles. Which is to try to figure out first what the picture on the box looks like - and that is about what you want for the sector, what you want from governing - and then figure out if we have got the right bits in the box. If we don't have the right bits, what bits are we going to need to put in? That type of problem solving, and also trying to work with people, because whatever the outcome of this is going to be, it is going to mean change, I would suspect.

What would you like to achieve?

Something that seems sensible to everyone, that works, that isn't going to cause huge amounts of upping and downing. My aim would be that at the end of this, hopefully, a student may never know that the review has gone on. Only from a positive point of view should it impact on the student. And if at the end of it we get a sector that is governed better, has more direction and knows where it's going and not going, that will be beneficial.

Do you understand that principals are worried about the review?

I am sure some are and some aren't. Last year I chaired the group that produced a strategy paper for Scotland's Colleges and was quite heartened by the view of a lot of principals, and indeed some chairs, that this is a time for change - we can't stay where we are, we have been where we are for a long time. I am not about looking at how many lecturers we have; I am looking at how we are going to govern the sector.

How do you see your role?

To give the Government advice. I am not going to set up a whole board, and the board will do the review. I am going to have four advisers who are going to help me do this, but in the end I will write the report. One is Mike Cantley, the ex-chairman of Forth Valley College, now chairman of VisitScotland. He is a businessman, he runs his own company, and has brought two colleges together. As a principal, I have brought Brian Lister on. I have got respect for Brian. He is involved in a coming together of colleges at the moment, and he doesn't have an axe to grind. And then I will have someone from the union side and the student side. That is very important. You can't do a review of the sector without talking to your customer.

So where are we in the process?

I am starting to engage with Scotland's Colleges, with principals. I am going to spend the first month just asking people questions. I am going to sit down with the Government and the funding council and ask them what they want, because they are very important to the system. This is like a large company asking shareholders what they want. I just want to understand what the structure is. What they want is critical.

What do you say to people who think the outcome of this review is pre- determined?

In all honesty, I have no idea what it will look like. All I can tell you is that it won't be the status quo, because that just does not fit with what the world wants and what it can afford. I probably do have a shape in my head, but that is why I have got four people to advise me, because my shape may well be the wrong shape, so I want people to challenge me. Hopefully I will learn, and if I don't, I will have done it really badly.

Do you think there are too many colleges?

Yes, I do. That has to do with size as much as anything else. There are all sorts of structures we could have. What we have to do is not just think about boards, and the power of boards. A one-layer answer may not be the right answer.

What are you going to be mindful of?

The first thing is the learners, that they are not disrupted, or if so, minimally. That the governance we put in place does what it says it is going to do, which is govern. If you asked each of the 41 boards what they were there for and what their relationship with their principal was, you would get more than one answer.

What is the message you would like principals to keep in mind?

I am going into this to do the right thing. And I will have some good folk around me to make sure I don't deviate.


Born: Edinburgh, 1948

Education: Sciennes Primary; Boroughmuir High; BA in Commerce, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

Career: In business, 1971-2000; former director of Scottish Enterprise; chair of audit committee for Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland, and of Dumfries and Galloway College board.

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