Paul McKean is further education and skills customer advocate at Jisc

Anyone working in further education (FE) at the moment would agree that the sector is facing challenging times. Whatever the outcome of the forthcoming general election, most agree that cuts will continue. 

This pressure to economise, combined with the recent call to action for the Government to produce a cohesive digital agenda, outlined in the House of Lords report, highlights a sea change in how further education is delivered. The report concludes in no uncertain terms that we as a nation either keep pace with ever evolving digital technology, or risk falling behind.

Counting the cost

When it comes to justifying the cost of FE, its impact on the economy is often discussed, however unlike higher education, it is rarely measured.

One way to increase the impact of FE, and to make that impact more measurable, is to improve the use of digital technology in learning providers. FELTAG (the Further Education Technology Action Group) is a group that was set up by Matthew Hancock, minister of state for business and enterprise, in order to champion the use of digital technology in FE. The FELTAG recommendations are already likely to have sparked debate in the staff room, but its over-arching recommendation is clear: the use of digital technology in further education isn't optional.

The future with FELTAG

The FELTAG recommendations have been broadly met with enthusiasm, but in practical terms they also mean that many learning providers are rethinking their curriculum as a result. At Jisc, we're in a good position to help with this challenge.

For starters, there has been some confusion about the 'FELTAG 10%', but with the help of the Skills Funding Agency, we've been able to clarify that point here.

In fact, Jisc along with a number of sector bodies and agencies including AoC, NIACE, Natspec, ETF and others have outlined a number of measures that can help, from supporting colleges to collaborate in their curriculum design to building a pool of online resources for the sector. We've outlined six areas where we felt support was currently lacking for FE providers when it comes to FELTAG, and worked out how we can help.

DigiFest 2015

The FELTAG recommendations have created a sense of urgency for many. That's why we've dedicated a day of this year's Jisc Digital Festival, which is free to attend for Jisc's membership organisations, to FE and skills, celebrating technology innovation in the sector, encouraging collaboration between providers and offering advice and guidance on incorporating digital technology into the curriculum. The FE and skills focussed sessions will include debate around using IT and digital skills to enhance student employability and therefore help to make FE more measurable.

Attendees will hear first-hand from Google on how the further education community uses Google tools in a transformational way, and will gain valuable insight from experts in the field on the experiences and expectations of FE learners.

With cuts looming for the sector, sessions such as 'What does a digitally capable institution look like?' and 'Save money and consolidate data in one safe environment' will give providers an essential overview of the technology available that can not only improve student satisfaction but lower costs as well.

Another change the FE sector is facing is the increasing need to manage online safety. Delegates at the Digital Festival will have the opportunity to hear how Jisc is already helping providers in the sector to stay safe and secure online, as well as what more can be done.

There will also be exciting discussions and sessions on tools such as augmented reality and 3D technology. Further education providers will hear how they are being used to really engage students and enhance existing active based learning methods.

The future for FE?

Regardless of the outcome of the general election in May, it is certain that keeping up with digital innovation, particularly in the FE sector, will be on the next Government's agenda one way or another. The FELTAG recommendations might get a different name, but the content won't change significantly and so Jisc will continue to champion digital skills and technology in this sector. This will help colleges and other FE providers develop ways to use technology that will save money, while also delivering impact that will help people to understand the huge benefits the sector brings for students, the economy and the country as a whole.

Paul McKean is further education and skills customer advocate at Jisc, which provides digital solutions for UK education and research

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