Ngaio Crequer meets the new Swindon principal and learns about his university challenge
It is hard enough being the principal of a college, but having to succeed Clive Brain, the principal of Swindon College who died in a train crash last year and was univerally mourned by management and staff, is very difficult.
When all too often there were stories about bullying managers appearing to gloat over their macho policies and intransigent lecturers taking to the streets, Dr Brain towered over it all and seemed to achieve the Nineties equivalent of a love-in between all sides.
His successor, Dr Stephen Griffiths, formerly principal of Halesowen College in the West Midlands, is aware of his challenge. "Clive was here for a long time and was very well respected and liked in a personal capacity. I am certainly different. One thing I will not attempt to do is to become Clive Brain mark II."
But nor will he be a macho manager. "It seems to me that the most important job of any chief executive is to get the right people in the right jobs, to identify roles and to get the best possible fit.
"Some principals make the mistake of thinking that if they get rid of individuals they can replace them with something better. You know, the grass is always greener on the other side. I first attempt to make the most of what I have. I have never been associated with massive redundancies in the past and I would hate to think I would be associated with it in future."
Swindon College is in excellent financial shape and during Dr Griffiths's time at Halesowen that college significantly expanded its range and provision.
A grammar school boy who went on to teach physics and mathematics, he became assistant director of studies at another grammar and then headed the physics department at Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge.
Then he made a conscious decision to seek greater challenges. From Cambridge he went as senior lecturer in physics and maths to Dudley College of Technology. "I wanted to move in FE and I thought Dudley would be quite a change, and it was. It was bigger and more diverse.
"I like change, but I like to be successful in what I do, and I always have been."
He was briefly at Wulfrun College in Wolverhampton, Stafford College, then went on to Halesowen, first as vice-principal, then principal in 1993. Now he relishes the challenge at Swindon.
The town is one of the fastest growing in Europe. "It is more concerned with its future than its past, and is rated highly by the Japanese," he says.
One of the issues he will be pressing is a university presence. Wiltshire is one of only six counties without a university. Swindon and other FE colleges are working with the University of Bath to create a university operating from several sites, making full use of modern communications and technology. Government funding has been given for the first 200 students.
As well as the grand plan, he is considering the details. He will be monitoring where the students are coming from, what they are coming to do and what information they have received. He is, he says, obsessive about the quality of information people give and receive.
At Halesowen, teaching and learning was monitored by seniors looking at juniors, but also by peer groups working together. He says that getting good practice known is vital, since in large organisations it is often difficult for others to know what is going on.
And his management style? "I like to think that I am fair, very open. I like clear, direct, two-way communication with people. And I am firm."