From education to employment

Is FE Missing Curriculum & Income Opportunities?

FHE Marketing Consultant Stefan Drew

So often I hear that the sector is underfunded.

Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. Personally, I’m not convinced. It might be that we have enough money but just don’t spend it wisely. 

Or maybe we don’t have the right mindset to generate additional high-volume income streams.

Where Are These Additional High-Volume Income Opportunities?

Look at TV and you will see which programmes are popular and which topics are repeated in alternative formats.  These spawn course opportunities.

For example, 1996 saw the first viewing of Silent Witness. The growth in forensic science courses followed.  Silent Witness is still going over a decade later and has been a huge contributor to interest in STEM subjects.

Look also at the number of cookery programmes, from MasterChef to Bake Off, there are few nights without a cookery show on the TV. These programmes keep cooking and catering in the public eye and make it easier to build on, and maintain numbers, on full time courses. Even with this help the industry is still facing skills shortage, so there are still career opportunities available for those that take these courses. And more opportunities for FE to improve recruitment.

Every extra student on a full-time course generates income and this is especially true when we boost course numbers from barely viable numbers to putting a bum on every seat. The additional variable cost is small compared with the fixed overheads, which means this is where financial surpluses lie.

The above mainly relate to full time or apprenticeship delivery. But what of short courses? I’ve related how the private sector thrives on short cookery courses in previous posts, so will not dwell on it here. 

So, let’s look at another subject that I believe could bring in huge sums for FE.

Hands up if you have ever taken a photo with an iPhone.

My guess is that you have taken a photo with some sort of phone. And as the iPhone outsells other phones it was more than likely an iPhone.

Were you happy with the photo?  Could it have been a bit more colourful, been less grainy or without flash-induced red eyes?  Do you know how to prevent red eye, make the image sharper and boost the colours? Most people don’t. And that presents a course opportunity that could bring in a lot of money.

In 2016 there were over 7,000,000 iPhone sold in the UK.  The year before it was just under 7,000,000. That’s 14 million smartphones sold over two years. And if just 0.1% were interested in improving their iPhone photography skills that would be a huge potential market.

So why not run an iPhone photography course?

There’s Nothing New in FE

At least one college has tried to run an iPhone photography course. It hit the headlines way back in 2012 and the lecturer concerned then joined forces with the Guardian to run courses for them. According to the Guardian website dated July 10th, 2012, the course was cancelled for reasons beyond their control. The college concerned no longer runs the course and my efforts to contact them to enquire if it will run again resulted in a message saying they couldn’t connect my call at present!

Check Hotcourses and no UK based iPhone photography courses are listed. The only one is US based and lasts one hour. I defy anyone to get over the depth and breadth of iPhone photography in one hour, so maybe this isn’t the course for me.

Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps this isn’t an opportunity to increase income I thought it would be.

iPhone Courses are Buoyant

In reality there are significant opportunities to run iPhone photography courses. Ignore all the negative results I’ve shown above and focus on Emil Pakarklis. Emil runs online iPhone photography courses. His courses start with a basic introduction that consists of six modules, a lot of video demos and takes several days to complete.  He also started in 2012 and is still running his courses.

After the basic course you have a choice of many other courses to choose from. Decide on Night or Low Light Photography, Travel Photography, Landscape Photography, Editing, … the list is long.

But is it profitable?

I must confess I’ve not seen his books so can’t say for sure. But he has 444,000 followers on Facebook and it would only take a small percentage of them to buy a course to produce a large income.

Ask yourself how many followers you have on Facebook. I’ve checked a few large colleges and 12-24k followers is the range I’m seeing. These are large, viable colleges but they come nowhere near Emil’s following. Think what they might be capable of if they had 444,000 Facebook followers.

Of course, not all of Emil’s students are local to him. He has students worldwide. On the course I’m doing there are over 3000 students posting online comments about the course. It’s a vibrant student community that shares experiences and helps one another. The breadth of experience and geographic spread is a definite plus for a student like me. It adds to the student experience as many students attest. These courses are dynamic and stimulating,

Another plus is that the software being used is far superior to those used to run MOOCS. I’ve taken several MOOCs, but find the interface to be dated and some of the presenters staid and frankly boring. It’s amazing how a wonderful subject can be destroyed by poor presentation skills and a “lecture to camera” approach. Friendly wins every time with audiences like this, but this is something that many academics have failed to grasp.

In recent times there has been a move towards digital universities. In some senses I applaud this. But the objective should not be to become a digital provider. It should be about using digital, or whatever, to provide the customer with better learning opportunities. It is not about digital per se; it is about the customer.  We need to set our sights on the customer.

I also believe we often set our sights far too low. We run courses for local people and limit our options by making the courses classroom based. Emil has set his sights high and has a worldwide audience. Not bad for a young man running a small start-up business  ….. and taking the lion’s share of this huge market from the professionals.

What Subjects Will You Teach Worldwide?

I believe iPhone Photography courses are viable. But the market is now dominated by a young man with great delivery skills. It’s too late for FE. So, which course could you teach?

Or rather, which courses? Running one course seems to miss the point. By all means cut your teeth on one course, but you should have a whole series of courses in planning and production before even finishing the first.

Of course, that means that marketing the course is key to success. As a rule of thumb, you need to put 20% of your resources into the course and 80% into marketing. Marketing isn’t something to be left to chance. You need a strategy to identify your market, produce a course, and then market it very effectively. This market isn’t like any other that FE currently serves. It’s international, dynamic, fast-moving, demanding and rewards success. Its not local and consumers aren’t prepared to wait for next term before you launch a new course or allow people to take existing courses.

There is still a place for local courses starting in September, but it is a diminishing marketplace. Certainly, some people will still attend locally run courses as they offer a degree of socialisation that online can’t embrace. You can’t have lunch in the refectory with fellow students on an online course .. well not until holographic courses become the norm!

The courses that providers will offer in future will be similar to those already offered in most cases. But, despite previous failures, they will be supplemented by courses like iPhone photography.

These courses take imagination and, because he is aware of the outside world, I can see Emil adding a drone variation to his existing courses. My only worry is that FE will remain looking inward when it should be looking outward. The world is about to cry out for skilled people looking to upskill in some of the skills I mentioned in my article on BitDegrees and MicroColleges. We already need people specialising in combatting cybercrime, and soon we’ll need experts in bio-waste optimisation, privacy guardian training, 3D food printer recipe design, cryptocurrency checking, ageing, swarmbot management and education system dismantling.  

As we enter the final stages of Brexit, and the population ages, we need to grab every opportunity the world offers. Education is prime real estate where billions can be made. And FE could take a huge share of this market, providing it emulates Emil and other entrepreneurs. If it achieves this then some of it’s financial worries are over.

About Stefan Drew: FHE Marketing Consultant Stefan Drew was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and for over a decade has consulted with colleges, universities and private providers throughout the UK, Europe, Africa and the US. LinkedIn

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