Is there life after scandal?

13th April 2001 at 01:00
The controversial former boss of the Association of Colleges is now forging a successful career as a restaurateur. But how are his ex-colleagues coping with life outside further education? Francis Beckett tracks them down.

ROGER Ward is a millionaire now. The former boss of the Association of Colleges, ousted after The TES revealed his business dealings, is uncharacteristically shy about his money. "Millionaire? I wouldn't know, I'll have to ask my accountant." But only seriously rich people say that; and, pressed, Roger said he "supposed" he was a millionaire.

Never the reflective sort, he does not look back to the days when he was the hammer of the college lecturers - "except to think, I had some great times there. I never look back, I just enjoy the moment." He owns two restaurants - the Cafe on the Hill in Muswell Hill, north London, and The Lane in London's West End - and is negotiating to open three more. He lives in Muswell Hill with his new partner, Jenny Hoyland, the former principal of Hendon College who was made redundant when Hendon and Barnet colleges merged.

Why the restaurant business? "I'd spent a large amount of my life in London's finer eateries and I thought it would be nice to own some of them. It's all fresh food prepared by French chefs. I'm chairman and I employ a managing director who used to be the deputy to TV chef Anthony Worrall-Thompson."

His initial capital, he says, came from a bank loan, but he is talking to venture capitalists to finance the next three restaurants. "I'm in fine form, fine fettle."

Surely, he said, TES readers would not be interested in his welfare. I assured him they would. "Oh, joy, what a joy," chortled Roger, and at the other end of the telephone I knew he was smiling that wide, warm, honest, travelling salesman's smile.

These days the Association of Colleges likes to talk as though Roger were an aberration, but when they picked him as their first chief executive, they knew what they were doing. He represented the lifestyle several college principals wanted. They noticed the champagne arriving for the top table at one of his first meetings, and they understood the message, as Roger intended they should. He once told me: "I was saying, look, boys and girls, it's different. Understand from day one that if you're going to employ Roger, you're going to enter into a world which is very different, more upfront."

So what happened to Roger's acolytes, the men and women who absorbed the intoxicating air of post-incorporation FE, the franchising kings and queens, with fat-cat salaries and command-and-control management styles? A few of them are still in their posts, but they have gone out of fashion, and a series of high-profile scandals has thinned their ranks. The air is thick with the beating of the wings of chickens coming home to roost. But few of them have Ward's gift for putting the past behind them.

Take Martin Jenkins of Halton College, the biggest franchiser of them all, who despised trade unions and "1970s' thinking", made himself the highest paid FE principal in Britain with a salary well into six figures by 1997, slashed part-time lecturers' pay, made himself a byword for globetrotting, and left his college paying back millions to the Further Education Funding Council. He and his wife live in Appleton, a suburb of Warrington, and their telephone number is ex-directory.

But former colleagues find him still furious and bitter about his treatment, and vitriolic about the senior manager who, he believes, shopped him to the press and the FEFC. This person, he points out, now has a well paid job, and Jenkins himself does not. He still apparently believes that everything he did was defensible, and the fault lay with others: his staff, the press, the FEFC. "He's nursing his injured innocence," says one former colleague.

Or take Ken Ruddiman. The former Sheffield College principal who retired in November 1999 and whose college was at once placed in special measures by the FEFC, which condemned its management structure and governance. Ruddiman has only one regret. "If I had my time again I would not go into the business. There is no satisfaction left. Successive governments have treated public services badly and that includes FE lecturers."

He's not impressed by what has happened since his retirement. "I have seen nothing that enthrals me. I see matters not being addressed, too much bureaucracy. We still have an understaffed and undertrained nation and it's not getting any better. We should have basic standards in each trade. We should be doing the basic bog-standard things."

Retirement suits him, though. A keen gardener, he spends most of his time with his daffodils and tulips, pleased that "I don't have to think about learning councils."

Cricklade College principal Richard Evans ran one of the most colourful schemes of the buccaneering nineties. The college got some European money on condition that it provided matching funds, but, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers' report, never intended to provide the matching funds. It then took some of the European money in exchange for services which it never provided.

Since August last year a new principal has cleared out Evans' management team and a new start is being made. Last week Evans told me firmly: "I am happy to be retired, and don't want to talk about it."

One of the human casualties of the Evans' regime was business studies lecturer Andy Murray. Three years ago last week (it's an anniversary he celebrated grimly) college authorities accused Murray, secretary of the Cricklade branch of lecturers' union NATFHE, of shopping them to the press, and in 1998 he was made redundant after 12 years. An industrial tribunal turned down Murray's victimisation claim, but NATFHE appealed to the employment appeal tribunal, which, just last month, agreed that the appeal should be heard.

"It's not finished yet," says Murray. Meanwhile he's working for Steel Partnership Training, an organisation set up by the steel trade union ISTC to help redundant steelworkers, and the recent announcement that Corus is to close has meant a busy few weeks. "Having been made redundant myself helps me to understand what the steelworkers are going through," he says. He wants to get back to FE one day. "I've always been determined to work in education."

Jenkins' regime at Halton had its human casualties too - the best known being media studies lecturer Val Goulden. An employment tribunal found that that she had been victimised for giving evidence against Jenkins at a colleague's employment tribunal.

Goulden lives just a few streets away from Jenkins, but they never meet. The long haul through employment tribunals exhausted her and shredded her nerves, and now, at 52, she's retired and doing a creative writing course at Liverpool John Moores University. For her final project, she's writing a six-part screenplay set in an FE college with a bullying principal. She often looks after her grandchildren and is more cheerful than she has been for years. "There's definitely life after college," she says.

John Akker, former NATFHE general secretary, says he "misses the challenge" of promoting FE and the new universities. "I miss it with passion, because they are still getting such a raw deal." But, he adds: "Paul Mackney is doing an excellent job and under his stewardship NATFHE will thrive."

When Akker left NATFHE he planned to buy a pub, but was gazumped. He worked as an adviser to Liberal education spokesman Don Foster until Foster was moved to environment, then became executive secretary of the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics. CARA was founded in 1933 to help refugees from Nazi Germany, and Akker says: "I greatly enjoy being able to help refugee academics who have had their lives destroyed."

Ward's legacy was an organisation with its reputation in tatters and its morale at rock bottom. It all might have been so different. Before the Association of Colleges there was the Colleges Employers Forum, run by Ward, and the Association for Colleges, run by Ruth Gee. When they merged, colleges had to choose either Ward or Gee to head the new organisation. They chose Ward. It was a defining moment.

I telephoned Ruth Gee in Johannesburg, where she is spending 10 days making arrangements for South African colleges to visit the UK. She runs the vocational educational and training section of the British Council, and she says: "I'm enjoying myself, developing partnerships with countries, governments and businesses all over the world."

She looks back with pride on her time running the AFC. Of course she would like to lead the merged organisation, especially now: "I would love to be running the AOC at the time of a Labour government." This presents tremendous opportunities, and she is too discreet to comment on whether its present leadership is taking full advantage of them.

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