From education to employment

Making the business of Further Education work

“I want to put further education on a sound footing for the future and link it better into the economy” – Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business.

A skills system must meet the needs of business and the choices of learners. It must be responsive to opportunities in an increasingly dynamic economy as an advanced growing economy demands advanced skills. But how are the needs of employers and the choices of learners aligned? How is the UK responding to new economic opportunities in high growth markets and building the necessary skills to exploit these opportunities?

Richard Horton, Regional Vice President, EMEA at Blackboard outlines the findings from a whitepaper they have just recently launched looking at the future of further education in the UK, including the role of technology in effectively responding to the challenges it is facing.

Delivering the most suitable skills relevant for today’s employers is a key objective for FE colleges, however the reduction in the further education and skills budget presents a serious barrier to them achieving this. There will be some tough decisions to be made as institutions look to continue to deliver quality results with less and combat the funding cuts by implementing the most commercial and competitive strategies to attract the best students

Our research reveals two clear strategies are emerging as to how FE colleges plan to cope with public funding cuts. Half of those colleges surveyed plan to increase revenue and advance teaching by exploiting existing online learning environment to reach out to local industry and offer employer training courses., while a similar number anticipate reducing teaching staff or courses and making use of existing technology to streamline and reduce the costs of administration.

Perhaps the greatest challenge that FE colleges must overcome is the large disparity between the courses students want to study, the courses FE colleges run and the subjects demanded by employers. While students favour subjects such as health and social care and business administration, most employers working with FE colleges are demanding STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) qualifications and industry-specific courses such as automotive and construction. While government funding for STEM subjects will hopefully go some way to addressing this, it is also clear that new methods of learning delivery will be required at a time when there is less money to spend on traditional teaching.

This disconnect seriously threatens to undermine the Government’s objective when it comes to achieving a world-class skills base fit for the demands of the 21st century global economy. Building an internationally competitive skills base requires flexible and innovative approaches to teaching and learning, which are cost-effective, responsive to employer and students needs and makes full use of the potential of technology.

For example, at a time when STEM teachers and learning resources are in short supply, it is imperative to ensure that those who are available receive the fairest and most widespread access. Online learning technology can be harnessed to share services and pool resources so that students can be brought into contact with remote sources of knowledge that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to benefit from. Furthermore, when reaching out to local industry, an e-learning portal provides the perfect environment for colleges and local business to collaborate and ensure course content is aligned to both the needs of the student and the demands of the employer.

Be it through streamlining administrative processes, sharing resources or opening up additional revenue streams, a greater reliance on technology can help increase the capacity of further education in the UK to meet the demands of individuals, colleges and employers. Nobody says it will be easy, but the opportunity is there for those who choose to seize it with both hands.

Richard Horton is Regional Vice President, EMEA at Blackboard, the education software company that works with more than 5,000 institution and millions of users. A free summary of this research, entitled Further Education Reviewed, can be downloaded here


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