Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Staff to Share the Rewards in Co-Op College Plans: Fe News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Staff to Share the Rewards in Co-Op College Plans: Fe News

Article excerpt

John Lewis-style model promises 'tangible benefits' for students, too.

The concept of a "John Lewis college", an FE institution run by a staff-owned mutual cooperative, was first mooted by Skills Funding Agency chief executive Geoff Russell in late 2010 as a means of turning around struggling providers.

That description does not fit Birmingham Metropolitan College (BMC). It was rated "good" by Ofsted last year, with inspectors praising its "strong strategic position" and "positive and supportive culture". But the college is nonetheless blazing a trail by developing a new governance model that, if implemented, could see it become the first FE college to be run by a mutual co-op. This body would be responsible for delivering education, training and back-office support services under a contract to BMC itself.

As part of its research into creating the new management structure, the college has spoken to a number of institutions that operate similar models, including credit unions, cooperatives and, of course, department store John Lewis. It has explored the principle of setting up an asset trust, meaning the body would effectively manage the college's assets, but not own them. As in the John Lewis model, staff would have a direct say in how the college is run, with the incentive of receiving a potential bonus if it performs well.

Perhaps more surprisingly, principal Christine Braddock would also be keen to see students hold stakes in the mutual body; this would bring "tangible benefits" for both parties, she believes. "If we can capture students at 14, we can get them to buy in to the college," Ms Braddock said. "They would make a commitment to us to undertake education over three, four or five years. At the moment, from one year to the next, we're not sure of their commitment. They would get mutual benefits, such as funding for their future fees. The longer a student stays on, the more beneficial it is." Backing from BMC's corporate partners, including international businesses such as Caterpillar, Samsung and Baxi, could help to facilitate this, she believes.

The model would also lead to employees feeling more engaged and motivated, according to college bosses. "All parties have to push the same way to make it successful. If you have buy-in from stakeholders, people contribute to the success of it. I believe that the net benefit they are getting could bring some mutual benefits back to us... The principle of mutual will bring far better governance to the organisation," Ms Braddock added.

She is keen to throw off another of the conventions of college management by taking a further unprecedented step: paying college governors. …

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