Kat Fletcher, a former president of the National Union of Students, has been recruited by the Centre for Excellence in Leadership to help devise a new training programme aimed at course representatives and students with other management roles.
CEL has been training student governors in conjunction with the NUS and the Association of Colleges for the past two years.
But Ms Fletcher, who was NUS president in 20056, wants to extend this to more learners so that student opinion becomes a crucial part of college quality systems. "We have to create a pyramid structure so there is proper representation of students at every level," she said.
A NUS survey carried out last year found that just two-thirds of colleges have student unions, many of which are poorly funded and have little influence. In his review of FE, Sir Andrew Foster criticised colleges for not taking sufficient notice of learners' opinions. But now the tide appears to be turning.
The Department for Education and Skills recently proposed increasing the minimum number of students on college governing bodies from one to two, while the Learning and Skills Council is in the throes of setting up a national learners' panel.
Lynne Sedgmore, chief executive of CEL, said today's students could help to solve a looming leadership crisis by remaining in the sector following their studies. "We want to enhance the capacity of students as leaders,"
she said. "We want to develop existing learners into the leaders of the future."
About 60 students a year join the governors' course, which was launched in 2004. Anthony Smythe, head of governance at the AoC, said the new course would probably rely heavily on web-based learning so that it reaches more students.
Due to be launched this autumn, it will cover topics such as how FE works, quality systems and the use of satisfaction data gained from learners. It should appeal to NUS presidents and students who sit on college committees, and will lead to a qualification.