In the further education sector one of the great strengths of governors, and one which I believe enhances their credibility in discussion and debate with the Government and the Further Education Funding Council, is their independence. This independence springs from a long tradition of voluntary public service which in the case of the further education sector remains unpaid and in my view should so remain.
Two questions to be asked in regard to payment of governors are: is there a serious problem of suitable persons prepared to offer themselves for service? Would payment of governors improve the quality of college governance?
Of course there is a continuous need to ensure that governor vacancies are properly filled. Provided that search for, and identification of, suitable potential candidates is a rolling process, there is no reason for a vacancy to become a crisis provoking a desperate hunt. Even in a crisis, would throwing money at the problem be any kind of solution? I very much doubt it.
Since incorporation, the designated independent, as well as other governors, have been drawn in large measure from the professional, academic and business communities; people with continuous demands on their time. How much would you pay in "compensation" for the time they devote to college governance? Surely the amount of fee that could in practice be offered would be no real inducement to serve, and many would regard it as a devaluation of the worth of their contribution. People who cannot give the necessary time to serve on a governing body are hardly likely to gain time when they can exchange it for a fee.
Motivation would also be called into question. As matters stand, it can fairly be inferred that the primary motivation is to serve the college and the community, and to "put something back". Payment could well confuse this important aspect.
A stab at the potential overall cost were governors to be paid could be anywhere between Pounds 8 million and Pounds 30 million. Not too large a percentage of the total sector costs? No, but assuming that this is where it had to come from, it would equate to a reduction of between one to four members of staff for every college in the sector. I doubt that any payment to governors could be met by finding more "efficiency savings" than are presently required for the effective and efficient running of colleges.
One criticism of the method of appointing independent governors is that they could become a self-perpetuating oligarchy. At present this is not borne out by any evidence. Indeed, there appears to be a moderate but healthy turnover and renewal of governors.
Upon incorporation, governors across the board landed with their feet running and have had little opportunity to pause and take stock. They are conscious of their role as custodians of public funds and of their responsibilities and accountability. I believe there is a keen awareness and striving for good governance. I can see nothing that payment of governors would achieve to further this objective.
It has been argued governors are drawn from a narrow sector of the community and payment would rectify this. This assumption is false. The evidence is that governors are drawn from across the whole spectrum of the community: ethnically and gender-mixed, generation-spread and from all classes.
Although I oppose, in principle, payment of governors, I do not believe that the issue should be taken in isolation. It should be examined in the context of an overall review of effective college governance. The further education sector is currently being examined by both the Parliamentary Education Committee and Nolan. After their findings are made known could well be an appropriate time to review college governance in all its aspects.
Ivor Hockman is chairman of governors, Woodhouse Sixth Form College, and vice chairman of the Sixth Form Colleges Association.