Pioneering training schemes for college middle managers are being launched at five universities as competition for the potentially lucrative college staff development market hots up.
The Masters-level courses will run at Brighton, Hull, Manchester, Warwick and Anglia Polytechnic universities from this autumn to provide management training tailored to heads of department and other middle managers in the further education sector.
The scheme was designed for sixth-forms by the Association of Principals of Sixth Form Colleges, but has been adapted by the Association of Colleges to span the whole college sector.
AOC officials launched the scheme this week, as the Further Education Development Agency started a massive consultation exercise as part of its own management training initiative.
FEDA and AOC officials work closely, but there is rivalry over the potentially large market for management training and other staff development in colleges.
The AOC's curriculum director, Judith Norrington, said the AOC had adopted the programme in response to demand from colleges.
She said: "We think it's an important area. You only have to look at the people leaving with the retirement changes to see the demand, but also people at that level need support and staff development to help them be effective and to help further their careers.
"Our proposals arose because of real needs in real colleges. People asked us and we thought there was a gap in the market.
"The idea started with the sixth-form colleges, but we have opened it up to cover the whole of FE.
"The programme covers managing policy, people and resources - the sort of issues people need to deal with in colleges."
AOC officials believe there is widespread demand for management courses within colleges, and expect student numbers on the new course to grow over time.
A pilot was run at Brighton last year, which has been adapted for the new five-university programme. The one-year courses will include taught sessions and group tutorials.
Course designers, however, have developed a series of three transferable modules to allow staff to move jobs, but still continue their studies.
Meanwhile, FEDA staff were preparing to consult 30,000 college lecturers over their national management training initiative, launched last month.
FEDA, which runs the first MBA designed for FE colleges, is planning new qualifications for managers, extensions of work shadowing schemes and new research into college management techniques.
FEDA's head of institutional development and performance, Sue Brownlow, said: "We want to contact every manager in FE colleges."
Patricia Morgan-Webb, principal of Clarendon College, will chair a steering group overseeing the project.
The new drive towards management training comes amid increasing concern that colleges may not be able to deliver well-trained and experienced staff to progress to top jobs in FE and a new political impetus to improve standards in colleges.
The shadow education minister Bryan Davies made professional training for lecturers and management training a key part of his pitch to further education leaders at a FEDA conference last month.