'Visionary' principal to face charges

20th February 2009 at 00:00
Award-winning college leader steps down from his post following startling allegations. Neil Munro reports

Shockwaves went through Scotland's further education community last week when it emerged that one of the most highly-regarded, if sometimes controversial, former college principals would be appearing in court next month. The charges are believed to relate to the wearing of "inappropriate clothing".

Rae Angus, who had been at the helm of Aberdeen College since 1993, announced last Tuesday that he was stepping down from his post weeks short of his 62nd birthday. It is understood he had not been in good health and said in his parting statement that "it's time for change".

The following day, Grampian Police said a 61-year-old-man had been reported to the procurator fiscal on an alleged breach of the peace, following complaints from neighbours in Newburgh, Aberdeenshire.

The college adopted a "business as usual" mode and went out of its way to pay tribute to what Ken Milroy, the vice-chairman of the college board, described as Mr Angus's "exemplary" leadership. Margaret Donald, the board chair, praised "a legacy that is unrivalled in education". Under Mr Angus's leadership, the college won a string of national awards and he was lauded by HMIE as a "visionary" principal.

Ironically, the latest accolade was presented to the college last week at a ceremony at Westminster. The Beacon Awards acknowledge outstanding contribution to FE, and Aberdeen won recognition for the "creative production, adaptation and delivery of learning resources for its innovative use of e-learning resources to encourage students to become more effective learners".

The board has appointed Roddy Scott, one of the vice-principals, as acting principal - although the college's website is describing him as "principal". It was believed he was due to take over on April 1, but is in charge "with immediate effect".

The other vice-principal is Alison Hay, Mr Angus's wife, who is also the college's head of human resources. Her appointment to joint second-in-command in 1998, raised eyebrows at the time and led to Mr Angus being the only Scottish principal to have made it into the "High Principles" column in Private Eye.

His leadership was characterised by verve and nerve. When he was being challenged on his wife's appointment, he told staff in a memo that, in view of the challenges then facing FE, "my time - and your interests - would be better served addressing these issues than in writing semi-humorous letters to The TESS. That said, I need to respond to such matters to set the record straight. I will continue to keep you informed of important matters - even though this is not one of them."

Mr Angus was not afraid to take on all-comers. Aberdeen College led the way in establishing its own commercial arm, Aberdeen Skills and Enterprise Training, an achievement which made him the only FE principal to appear in a Scottish Business Insider survey of the country's corporate elite in 2000. He took a robust view of staff relations, initiating moves in 1996 to dismiss temporary lecturers who were told that, if they wanted their jobs back, they would have to sign up with Education Lecturing Services, a private employment agency.

He was also prepared to raise his head above the parapet where others ducked. At the height of the funding crisis in the mid-1990s following college incorporation, he suggested that Scotland could live with 13 colleges instead of the 43 which then existed, saving at least Pounds 20 million.

By the time of his unexpected resignation, a man who left school at 15 with no qualifications had built Aberdeen College into the largest in the country, with over 30,000 student enrolments a year and an annual turnover of Pounds 45 million.

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