Keith Wymer: Educationalist whose influence was felt in Russia, Africa, the Caribbean and the United States

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The Independent Online

Keith Wymer was Principal of a Further Education College for almost 30 years. Born in Norfolk, he gained his degree in English from Leeds University. A brief episode of school teaching was followed by 39 years in post-16 education in Bilston, Wolverhampton. He became the first Head of Department of Liberal Studies in the small vocational Bilston College of FE. He built up the department into a large one which encouraged working class students and adults to realise their further and higher education potential. He then became the first Principal of Bilston Sixth Form College and subsequently was appointed Principal of the merged FE and Sixth Form colleges which became Bilston Community College in 1984. From an enrolment base of 5,000, by the time he retired this had grown to 50,000 students – probably the largest FE college in the country.

"Keith loved working at the college and was part of a team," his son Phil said. "He was one of the first to go to South Africa with the college football team. He had a vision and a dream about education and he made it into reality with the work he did at the college. He dedicated his life to education." His innovative educational projects were not only recognised in the UK but were replicated abroad in countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the US. He was intrumental in setting up of British College of Banking and Finance in Moscow in 1993, which continues to thrive today.

Controversy was never very far away as he challenged prejudices and vigorously fought racism, lack of equal opportunities and the vested interests of the well-off. Appointed as an advisor to the first chief executive of the then Further Education Funding Council, later on he fell out of favour when he was accused of expanding the student population "too fast".

John Kyte, former Chair of Wolverhampton's Education Committee and Chair of Governors at Bilton Community College, said: "Twenty-nine years ago I met Keith and discovered from him a much more sophisticated, coherent and developed theory of tertiary education for all. In 1984 this seemed to come about with the opening of Bilston Community College in Wolverhampton. Nobody then realised the campaign of hate, lies and destabilisation the college and its supporters would have eventually have to endure. In 1999 the college closed and was merged with its smaller Wolverhampton rival. Allegations made about the college were subsequently proved false. Investigations by auditors and police established beyond doubt the falsehood of the rumours and the maliciousness of the detractors. But by then the college and its success had gone. Keith was shattered by the attack on him and the illegal destruction of the college, and it took someone of his strength of character, sincerity and courage to survive. He was loyal to his colleagues to the end in spite of a tiny minority who let him down."

He was Parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party at two General Elections, once in South Staffordshire and once in Ludlow. He was a great educational and political theorist, a sports fan and proud family man. He wrote many books and was renowned for his "Occasional Papers" series on education, politics and equal opportunities.

He is survived by Carol, his first wife, and their two sons, Phil and Patrick; and by Peta, his second wife, and their two daughters, Natasha and Colette.

John Godfrey

Ivor Keith Wymer, educationalist and politician: born 7 May 1938; married twice (two sons, two daughters); died 12 May 2009.