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Why managers must learn 'core' business

College finance officers, estates managers and personnel staff must have a clear understanding of the curriculum and how students learn.

With all the additional duties colleges have since leaving local education authority control, great care must be taken not to lose sight of our primary task: helping people to learn. This is our "core business" and without it we have no significant purpose.

The new management tasks require expertise which has not necessarily existed amongst college managers. There are now likely to be senior managers with little idea of what actually happens inside a college - their expertise lies in estates management, human resources or finance.

To make the best contribution to the college, they must gain an understanding of the core business and their impact on it.

This may sound simplistic and self-evident, but it has scarcely been necessary to make the point before. College managers have virtually all come up via the same internal route.

The new tasks have brought a new language, more often associated with business than with education. There is constant reference to re-engineering, de-layering, performance indicators, empowerment, mission statements, returns on investment, customer relations, sensitivity analysis. The danger is that many staff are alienated by the language and thus never receive the messages.

The wide range of responsibility also gives greater point to the college purpose or mission statement. That must guide everyone and serve to remind all staff that they depend on one another for the successful achievement of that purpose.

Strategic management is a key component of the successful college. It is the colleges who understand their business, know where they are and where they are going, who will grow and prosper.

As chief executive of the college, the principal has a responsibility for all of its activities and services. To discharge that duty effectively requires a withdrawal from the traditional, close association with the curriculum. This may appear to be at odds with our core business, but in reality it means that he or she must ensure that the curriculumlearning is fully represented in senior management and underpins all of the key decisions.

Ron Munroe is principal of West Cheshire College

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