'SMART is a code word for tough'

3rd November 2000 at 00:00
There are few horror stories, but fair scope for improvement in the management of Scottish colleges, the long-awaited review has concluded.

The report, produced by a Scottish Further Education Funding Council review team, was finally released in September, although the findings of the consultants KPMG were presented in March. The report calls for a more proactive role both for the Scottish Further Education Funding Council and for college governing bodies, which, it thought "do not exercise fully their monitoring role with regard to the management of the colleges".

It also emphasises the importance of better strategic planning and management information. There is a strong emphasis on setting SMART targets (Specific, Measurable, Appropriate, Relevant and Timed). One college principal said: "Smart in this context is a code word for tough."

The context in which the report was commissioned by Scottish education minister Helen Liddell in March 1999, in the final few months before the newly elected Parliament took over the Scottish Office's functions, helps explain the call for toughness.

Ms Liddell's husband has been a member of the Board of Clydebank College, which had run into financial difficulties in 1997. Scotland has yet to experience a scandal on the scale of those that engulfed English colleges. The Scottish funding council, itself a recent creation, is keen that this should remain so.

Principals and governors are asked a total of 73 "challenge questions" against which they can judge their performance and provide plans for improving them. Their answers will inform management action plans, which every college ust present to the funding council by December 31.

The report concludes that there is much good management practice , but warns that "there will be room for improvement in most". The greatest scope, it says, is in the workings of governing boards. In particular, the report calls for greater governor involvement in formulating a college vision and translating it into strategic and operational plans.

It also wants a better-defined role for clerks to boards, structured training opportunities for governors and more effective self-assessment.

It also calls for better integration of academic, financial and physical planning.

The report wants to see a more holistic approach to quality assurance and the recognition and development of marketing as a strategic rather than an operational issue. It points to the need for a more developed human resource management strategy, with all managers understanding their responsibilities and offered sufficient support, guidance and training.

While pointing to a broad improvement in industrial relations, it noted that the problems in some colleges were intractable.

It emphasises the need to establish and maintain effective public relations, avoiding the reactive approach of some colleges.

The finance function was found to be underdeveloped in many colleges. This should be countered by developing long-term strategic financial planning, providing management information to boards and senior management and developing management accounting to assist core and commercial activities.

Colleges are also told to develop comprehensive estates strategies

Huw Richards

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