Student challenge on college governors

21st January 2000 at 00:00
Despite government pressure, learners are still under-represented on boards.

COLLEGES which fail to appoint students to the board of governors will be "named and shamed" by the organisation representing almost 3 million learners in further education.

The decision by the National Union of Students follows a survey that showed four in 10 colleges had failed to appoint students in line with government regulations which came into force last August.

David Melville, chief executive of the Further Education Funding Council, has also told the NUS that it will have his support in challenging those colleges which do not appoint students.

Speaking at the union's first national FE student governor convention, at Derby Wilmorton College, he told the 100 delegates he would investigate every case.

"If there is any college without student governors, we will follow it up right away."

Under the new regulations, every college must have at least one, and up to three, student governors on the board. Before August, there was only room for one student - even then it was at the discretion of each corporation.

The extent of the shortfall was revealed when the NUS tried to follow up invitations to colleges to send students to the training convention. Mark Atkinson, NUS FE vice-president, told the convention: "It is clear that some colleges have been led to the water but are not going to drink. They do not want student governors."

Some college boards have protested that the regulations do not come into effect until the end of the current governor term - which varies for college to college - or until a vacancy arises.

But Professor Melville told The TES that this was not an adequate excuse. "I am afraid there are still governing bodies who are unconvinced of the value of student governors. I still hear the same sort of arguments that say they are put in post then are around for only a short time.

"My anwer to them is to talk to the majority of colleges who have had student governors for years and used them very successfully."

In some cases co-option was the answer. Where not, "there is nothing to stop colleges having student observers", he said. "But, what they must do at the first vacancy is to appoint."

However, Professor Melville warned against student organisations over reacting. There were huge logistical problems in reaching students in some of the largest and recently-merged colleges. The new regulations also needed time to bed down.

Most colleges should have scope for co-option since - as the FE Focus survey of governor recruitment revealed last week - there is a 12 per cent shortfall.

Many of the student governors also agreed that there were problems of apathy in the student ranks to overcome since their voice had been marginalised during the long years of Conservative rule. The NUS is launching a series of campaigns to raise the student profile in colleges, including the twinning of college branches with higher education unions which are well-organised and have a strong influence.

But there were many reports to the convention of "victimisation". At one college on the "at risk" list, a student governor in hardship was refused travel expenses despite having to make 35 20-mile trips to governors' board meetings in 10 months. Some college boards withheld notice of the convention from students until it was too late.

The NUS will ask the Association of Colleges to play a lead role in tackling problems. Richard Darlington, NUS press officer, said: "They have responded in very practical terms, in the way they see us. We want the AOC to work with us in order to fill every post."

"After this, colleges which still resist making appointments will be named and shamed, he said. "We do not want confrontation and, I hope that, with the help of the AOC, this will not prove necessary."

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