Thursday, November 07, 2013

Paying the college governors - the debate in the Guardian and elsewhere

This week Guardian Further Education carries a debate about whether college governors should be paid or not. The three contributions clearly set out some of the issues at the heart of the issue.

The article reminds me of the debate in the social housing sector a decade ago.

In 2003 the Housing Corporation allowed housing associations to pay board members who had previously been volunteers – like college governors are now. As a board member in the Midlands and opposed to board remuneration. I am now less sceptical.

Across the housing association sector, board remuneration was tied to governance improvement plans which saw good practices being introduced including board member appraisal and term limits on appointments. (Essential good practices not seen on too many college governing bodies.) Moreover, remuneration often ended board recruitment problems and promoted a professionalisation of governance.

So should college governors be paid? Maybe – it depends on the balance of costs and benefits being thoroughly and objectively analysed. Scarce resources spent on governors won’t be available for teaching and learning. On the other hand, if paying governors is used to improve governance we should end up with a better governed and stronger FE sector. The arguments for paying governors are likely to be particularly strong for the larger colleges.

In the Guardian FE piece, all three contributions came from the sixth form college sector rather than the general FE sector. The largest of the three sixth form colleges has an income of £14 million. Could board remuneration be justified for colleges of that size? I doubt it.

In 2011/12 (the latest year for which we have published figures) 17 colleges had income over £50 million. For such large and complex organisations, board remuneration may be appropriate and, perhaps, essential. A debate over board remuneration has a particular relevance for this sub-sector of further education – rather than for sixth form colleges.

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