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Further education – a vision of the future?

Nigel Rayner is director of Capita further and higher education.
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Colleges in England are currently considering what shape FE provision might take in the years ahead. Whatever your views are on the reforms to post-16 education, few in the sector would argue that they could have a significant impact on how colleges organise their provision.

This is a journey that many Scottish colleges have already embarked upon. Having worked closely with a number of institutions in the region that have merged or federated with neighbouring institutions, there are some common factors that they would highlight as critical to success.

A positive student experience

First, and most importantly, one of the key points made by colleges in Scotland is that change must be focussed on improving the student experience. Not only is this central to a college\’s ability to recruit and retain students, it also helps ensure the qualifications, skills and opportunities on offer will pave the way for a brighter future for those in the community the college serves.

While there have been some difficult decisions for institutions to make, some in the sector have been encouraged by the Audit Scotland report published earlier this year, which stated that reforms have had a \’minimal negative impact\’ on students.

Engaged and supportive staff

Colleges that have merged successfully have found it critical to gain the support of staff by keeping the lines of communication open.

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Institutions have found that staff based at different sites are much more positive about change when they are kept informed and are involved in the process, ideally from the outset. With supportive staff behind them, a college community is more likely to thrive and key stakeholders such as parents and employers will retain confidence in the institution too.

A streamlined approach

As providers came together to form larger organisations, this was often seen as a good time to do away with inefficient processes that can be time-consuming and costly. Some considered introducing an online applications system, for example, to help them earn valuable savings in terms of staff administration time.

The introduction of electronic registration was popular too, making it easier for staff to monitor attendance more effectively across a larger student base. Staff could spot individuals who are missing classes much more easily and step in early to keep them on track.

The shifting FE landscape may bring its challenges for English post-16 providers. But it could also provide an opportunity for colleges to become stronger, more resilient organisations that engage with all key audiences to meet students\’ needs. The students are the constant in this process, and ensuring they benefit from the highest standards of teaching and learning is what gets those of us working in the FE sector up in the morning.

Nigel Rayner is director of Capita further and higher education

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