Who'd volunteer to sit on a board of governors?

13th October 2000 at 01:00
AT the time of writing my understanding is that the Scottish Qualifications Authority board is intact, but the sharks are circling. It seemed strange to me that, at the time of Ron Tuck's resignation, there were few calls for the board or individual board members or even the chairman to resign.

There were a number of imaginative reasons suggested for this: I even heard one theory involving Lord Lucan and it seemed not much more fanciful than the rest. In case you begin to wonder if this is my roundabout way of suggesting that the board should resign, let me assure you that it is not. In any case I would not be sure how many members of the board had much more of an idea of the enormity of the final problem than the rest of us. I am therefore in no position to suggest whether they should resign or not. Anyone who has sat on a board or a committee knows what an onerous task it can be.

Do you ever wonder about the motivation behind membership of bodies such as these? So many members give of their time when the demands are so great: not simply demands in substantive terms, but on issues of principle too.

The fundamental principles of corporate governance - openness, integrity, accountability, selflessness, objectivity, honesty and leadership - are known as the Seven Principles of Public Life. Like motherhood and apple pie, few could argue with them and certainly I have heard little complaint from members of college boards whom I know.

None appeared to me to be there for personal gain. I accept that there could be some who are, but for the most part I can see little evidence of material reward for their efforts apart from the occasional free lunch or dinner - and, apart from colleges which have their own catering departments, these would not usually constitute haute cuisine.

I do accept that some might be rewarded through the British honours system or perhaps could move on to positions where they would be rewarded financially. But in further education financial rewards are fe and far between.

So what do board members do in return for whatever they get out of it? They are required, among other things, to demonstrate effectiveness in: adopting a vision of the college as a key facility within the local community; giving strategic direction to and oversight of the college's professional management; adopting targets within the development plan for progress and achievement; monitoring those targets; and establishing internal and external communication mechanisms which clarify the board's vision and demonstrate openness and flexibility.

The Government's Strategic Framework for Further Education stated: "It is through them that the Government's objectives of access, participation, collaboration and excellence will be achieved." These are not tasks to be taken lightly, nor are they easily accomplished. Now, as if these were not enough, further responsibilities are to be placed on boards by the FE funding council following the management review of colleges.

In terms of corporate governance alone there are 10 separate recommendations, including the need to continue to develop self-assessment strategies in order to ensure that they maintain their range of skills and knowledge.

Action plans on all of these recommendations are to be formulated by boards and college managements by the end of the year. I understand from some colleges that there is disquiet about the burden being placed on them and I know that there have been mutterings about resignation from some board members.

Perhaps, despite assurances to colleges from the funding council about the review being neither a whitewash nor a witch-hunt, there might yet be resignations simply because of members' perceptions about the extra responsibilities being placed on them. Perhaps also we should not be surprised that some boards are finding vacancies increasingly difficult to fill.

Norman Williamson is principal of Coatbridge College and a member of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

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