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Tackling the tide of change

31 July 2015

Colleges are facing a tide of change. In the run up to the summer break the Government set out a raft of announcements that go to the very heart of colleges and what we do. International students, ESOL, adult education…these have all been impacted by cuts and changes. Put them alongside the area reviews and productivity plan and clearly lots of things are being debated at the moment. The Government wants to make changes while it’s still in its post-election honeymoon period - more and more as each day passes it seems. So it’s certainly an interesting time for me to take up the reins as President of the Association of Colleges. Having worked in the sector for 34 years, I have seen many changes. These experiences will be invaluable in facing the current challenges. And let’s not beat around the bush – it’s going to be a challenge. The next 12 months are going to be critical for the college sector. Alongside counterparts in other public services, we face uncertain times with no guarantees about the outcome. As President, my priority is to put the long term interests of colleges and the people and communities we serve at the heart of everything I do. I will be focusing on three key areas: Meeting and seeking to influence those responsible for policy changes to make the case for colleges. There’s no denying that the Government seems to be in a hurry to change our sector. One of the critical areas for me over the next 12 months is to make sure that I meet with those responsible for the changes so there is a full understanding of what colleges do and the impact such changes would make. Pointing out the successes of colleges This is key to the solution. This sector has a great tradition of tackling such challenges head on and overcoming them. Our problem is that at the same time, we don’t celebrate our successes when they happen. Instead of hiding our light under a bushel, we should be repeating our achievements time and time again, locally and nationally. We should be highlighting college strengths and successes, showing the impact we make to our students, to our communities and to the wider economy. Reconnecting with the values of colleges At the heart of our sector is that we are there for our students. Whether as a principal or a lecturer, we all know that further education colleges provide high-quality technical and professional education and training for young people, adults and employers. We prepare over three million students with valuable skills for the workplace, helping to develop their career opportunities and strengthen the local, regional and national economy. I will be working to drum this into policy makers over the next year to ensure they understand the benefits of a strong further education system. To make any of this happen, I need your help and support to draw strength from the college membership of AoC. As a sector, we will be stronger facing these challenges together. This is something that has been demonstrated well over the last year under the Presidency of Richard Atkins, and is going to be a focus of mine. Richard has been an outstanding President, and I’d like to congratulate and thank him. I realise I have big shoes to fill, but I am looking forward to the challenge and engaging with as many of you as possible to give our colleges firm foundations for whatever the future brings.