Tertiary madness was bad business

27th April 2001 at 01:00
With regard to your report on the demise of Ealing Tertiary College (TES, April 13), I have never understood the idiom "a rat leaving a sinking ship". It seems to me the most sensible thing for a rat to do.

As a rat I left the sinking ship Ealing tertiary when I saw it being piloted towards the rocks. Many of my fellow rats took voluntary redundancy. Compulsory redundancy evicted many others.

ETC was the logo. To us it came to mean "everywhere total chaos". The mania for reorganisation took over from the beginning. We were changed from departments to faculties. Within 18 months we lost our faculties in all senses and were changed again to divisions.

The only response from the burgeoning non-teaching management hierarchy to the rising costs of themselves and falling student numbers, as the falling reputation of the college grew, was more teaching staff redundancies. Managers were fixed costs, teachers variable costs to be reduced.

It was sad to see an institution cobbled together from three colleges with a proud history scrap that record of service to the community and try to re-invent itself as "new".

Corridors once filled ith life became empty. Staff would appear and disappear like members of Stalin's Communist Party, their faces erased from the literature.

It was not a failure of the tertiary system. Failure was due to the unaccountability of the managers to anyone but an unelected, self-appointed governing body.

The situation was brought about through the desire to play at being a business, not an educational institution. The managers called themselves directors. It led to an incredible line-management structure with actual teachers at the base.

The principal is an accountant and has never been a teacher. The estates manager, a non-academic, was good at looking after buildings but transmogrified into a director at the bottom of whose hierarchy were language lecturers.

It was not an actual scandal, just a case of blundering incompetence, where anyone who disagreed with the course of steering onto the rocks was ignored or dismissed.

The lesson here is that colleges are not businesses, cannot be run like businesses, and where they are similar nonsenses and problems will arise.

Dave Nicholson 21 Albert Street Windsor Berkshire

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