FEFC chair: we must be open

February 13, 1998

The new chairman of the Further Education Funding Council expects "early action from the government on the issue of governance", writes Phil Baty.

Lord Bryan Davies said: "I expect more local government representation on college governing bodies, and this may need a statutory instrument to make it universal."

Stressing that "opportunities before the further education sector are unparalleled", Lord Davies of Oldham is under no illusion that in return for any new public money, which he expects will come, the colleges must do more to win the confidence of the government and the public.

The new FEFC chair is a former Labour Party education spokesman and a loyal Labour working peer. Further efficiency squeezes should be embraced, he told The THES on the eve of his first address to the sector at the FEFC annual conference in Birmingham this week. Colleges must also shake off the label of sleaze, increase accountability and market themselves much better.

"This government is placing the college sector as the linchpin for its education and employment strategy," he said. The sector should not be deterred by the downgrading of the lifelong learning white paper into a consultation document, he added. "It is not true that people have been hanging on waiting for the white paper to steer them. Enough messages have been going out to the colleges to illustrate the opportunities: the New Deal, the University for Industry."

There are also the extra 500,000 students promised by Tony Blair. "If we are to be realistic about expansion in higher education, we can expect about 400,000 of the places to go to further education," Lord Davies said. "The question is - can the sector deliver?" Lord Davies wants the sector to prove that it can offer value for money. "Most colleges recognise that they have more opportunities to re-organise their work to provide more students and opportunities without necessarily an increase in resources," he said. This will mean more distance learning, more information technology and less face-to-face teaching. But for Lord Davies, these present "interesting opportunities".

He also expects the sector to sell itself to the public better. This will have to include tougher measures to eradicate the taint of sleaze. He wants to make the FEFC more open. "The government wants all quangos to be more open, and I'm in favour of that."

Colleges can expect rewards in return for their efforts, and Lord Davies will not let his political loyalties get in the way of representing the sector. "I am in no doubt at all that the government cannot purport to deliver its key education priorities without a shift of resources into education," he said.

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