Rob Elliott, UK products manager at Capita’s further and higher education business

With times tight and the pressure on for the FE sector to increase the standard of education they offer despite limited resources, Rob Elliott, UK products manager at Capita’s further and higher education business, explains how linking payroll systems to timetabling can reap dividends when it comes to staff utilisation.

There’s no getting away from it – no matter how well you’ve adjusted to the impact of budget cuts, purse strings are tight and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Colleges need to continue scrutinising the way they operate to avoid unnecessary cost, without affecting the quality of the teaching or overall learning experience they can offer students. After all, budgets might be tight but no college wants to see standards decline.

The logical place to start making savings is the biggest cost to any learning provider – staff. In a survey we conducted last year, 85% of the colleges questioned cited staff utilisation as the top area they will look at for efficiency savings. The only surprise is that the other 15% aren’t looking here as well.

Perhaps these colleges underestimate what can be saved, while others might think it would require redundancies and don’t want to find themselves having to hire back more expensive subcontractors at a later date. The truth is you can’t get away from the fact that staff utilisation is a key area to consider if you want to reduce your outgoings.

Back in control

The key to remaining in control here is to link timetables with payments and contracts, and you should be able to do this via your management information system. Typically, staffing costs amount to around 70% of a college’s expenditure and a disproportionately large part of this can be part-time lecturers. One college I spoke to recently was shocked when they realised that just 10% of their total teaching hours was costing a disproportionate £500,000 as a result of their reliance on occasional staff.

It doesn’t help matters if data for staff utilisation is incomplete, or if contracted teaching hours are unaccounted for. At a time when colleges need to use all their available resources efficiently and effectively, you’d be surprised how often hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of activity can go unaccounted for. One of the most common errors is timetabling for 38 weeks for A-level teaching, even though many courses end in May.

When systems aren’t cohesive, it’s very difficult to work out if all staff are fully utilised. On the other hand, when contracts are linked to timetables, it forces the timetables to be accurate or staff won’t get paid correctly.

Tools to hand

By integrating systems, colleges are put much more in control of their main resource – staff – and they can make informed decisions about how they are used throughout the term. Whereas timetables in sixth form colleges tend not to change too much, in FE colleges they can change on a seemingly daily basis.

Being responsive to employer and community needs is a huge advantage for colleges determined to thrive during an uncertain economic period, so it follows that the workload can go up and down. By linking the timetable to staff contracts, if a full-time lecturer has a shortfall in hours, you can use them for an additional short-term course, for cover, for summer school or even for extra revision classes to improve success rates. It all adds up to using what you’ve got more efficiently.

If you need further convincing, let me leave you with the words of John Bolt, senior manager at KPMG and consultant to the Skills Funding Agency: “In assessing 18 colleges at KPMG, we’ve found potential savings in excess of £21 million. In one college the savings were as high as £3.5million and most averaged around £750,000. The area where the biggest savings could be made by far was staff utilisation.”

Rob Elliott is UK products manager at Capita Further and Higher Education, which provides fully integrated student management systems for FE and HE organisations

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