In April 1998, the legal status of further education colleges in Northern Ireland changed (Further Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1997). Their new legal status offers colleges the opportunity to develop a greater business focus while preserving a robust framework of public accountability. Colleges will need to respond in a balanced fashion to the competing demands made by multiple stakeholders. In order to assist colleges to respond to these challenges, the Department of Education (NI) has commissioned the Business Development Service, an agency within the Department of Finance and Personnel, to provide consultancy to those colleges which wish to explore the use of the business excellence quality model (developed by the European Foundation for Quality Management 1988-1991). This paper evaluates the relevance and validity of this approach for all 17 further education colleges in Northern Ireland.