FE Course Expansion & Funding Opportunities

Budget cuts are destructive. The outcome has been a reduction in opportunities for students and staff as well as a debt ridden sector.

However, there are opportunities for sector growth.

FE demand could double, or even treble, in the next few years.

But providers need to evolve new delivery structures.

In my last article, Conventional Education Isn’t The Path to Employment That It Once Was, I discussed how eminent people were forecasting the bankruptcy and redundancy of universities, across the UK and US.

Just in Case Versus JIT

For generations we’ve adopted a “Just in Case” approach to education. We’ve taught topics and skills we think may be needed.

For example, as an agricultural student, in an exam I had to calculate a ration for a Jersey cow producing 3.5 gallons of milk a day. I was expected to memorise the details of hundreds of ingredients and make a calculation based on a very complex memorised formula. But back on the farm everyone used a reference book and ready reckoner. Remembering the facts only taught me one thing. I understood that the exam process was seriously flawed.

Today there is a growing conviction amongst educators, worldwide, that rather than focus on “Just in Case” we need to take the “Just in Time” (JIT) route. In manufacturing JIT is the favoured process. Modern manufacture relies on the right quantity of parts and materials being delivered JIT so that goods can be manufactured JIT for orders to be fulfilled.

Education could go the same way. Basic education is necessary so people can literate, numerate and possess the soft skills employers are crying out for. Thereafter do we really need students memorising trivia, studying topics that are outdated, of no practical use or unlikely to be used for years? I’m not arguing against necessary underpinning knowledge. Nor do I believe that the option to study an esoteric subject over a long period shouldn’t be available. The argument that I, and many others give, is that some topics and skills are best learnt when needed and not before. What is the point of memorising facts if we will never use them in the workplace? Surely we should be ensuring understanding and application rather than rote learning. Lighting lamps rather than filling buckets.

A Word About Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are a good example of JIT. Apprentices are incrementally taught what they need to know over a period of time. They practice each skill in the workplace after they learn the theory and then move on to the next topic. This progression in knowledge and skill acquisition builds on the basics previously attained.

As the apprentice moves into a post-apprenticeship career learning shouldn’t stop. It should continue as new techniques, equipment and technology comes on stream. CPD is about being JIT.

JIT can be utilised outside of the apprenticeship route. But more of that later. First let’s consider the role of exams if degrees become JIT or universities become redundant as postulated by Sir Antony Seldon in The Fourth Education Revolution.

Do We Need Degrees and GCSEs?

Ian Grove-Stephensen, CEO Yacapaca.com, summed up the exam quandary very well in a recent note to me.

Grove-Stephenson said, “ …with top corporations now dropping the degree requirement for their 'graduate entry' programmes … we don't need degrees [or] A-levels. And if we don't need A-levels then we don't need GCSEs. This is not a problem; it is a huge opportunity to restructure education to truly develop well-rounded, thoughtful, caring citizens.” 

In my last article I quoted Peter Thiel ,  “To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there is no Santa Clause.”

For us not to question education is to undermine it by omission.

FE clearly has an interest in schools and GCSEs, but my concern in this article is around FHE itself.

Synchronous, Asynchronous or Semi-Synchronous Education?

In his book, Leveraged Learning, Danny Iny, describes all three systems. At present learning is mainly synchronous. Students have to be in a classroom or workshop on a given day to be taught. It is a mandatory process. There is no alternative but to attend.

Asynchronous is different. It isn’t new. The OU have practiced a form of it for years. You use resources to learn when it suits you. The process is guided by course leaders who will mentor, guide and assist the student at agreed times but there are few mandatory timescales.

In essence asynchronous takes us into blended learning. Cardiff and Vale College (CAVC) seems to have gone down this route with the CIPD courses for RAF personnel. RAF personnel and reserves will be able to take this course from wherever they are stationed globally. More of that later.

In a recent discussion with me, Aji Issac, CEO of Techshu.com, made a simple but profound comment. He said, “ … education is now global …”

Aji may be a new name to many in the UK. But he runs a large highly successful digital marketing agency. With hundreds of staff, spread across various locations in India, his agency is the biggest on the Eastern side of the Indian sub-continent.

Techshu is expanding. They are now also running courses and plan to expand into Europe. Aji doesn’t think globally in the same sense as CAVC. Their course can be taken by RAF staff anywhere in the world. The new training entrepreneurs consider global to mean they can design training for anyone globally, irrespective of the employer. The world truly is their oyster.

Another education star is Seth Godin. He demonstrates the true difference between Asynchronous and Semi-synchronous. Genuine Asynchronous education is roll on, roll off. There are no start or completion dates and hence no discipline. Seth Godin’s Alternative MBA has a 96% success rate. That’s not because it is easy. It’s because he makes his students hit start, end and delivery date deadlines.

A democratisation of education is taking place and many providers haven’t noticed.

Anyone can now produce courses and anyone can take them. Courses no longer need to be accredited. When students have implemented learning many employers find formal; accreditation unnecessary.

Aji, Seth and Danny, are our new competitors. And they are very good at what they do.

The Semi-Synchronous Opportunity

I see a glimmer of hope for FE. Despite too many providers just offering funded accredited courses, of the JIT type, some colleges recognise that a need exists outside standard courses offered on a limited geographic basis.

CAVC CIPD course is global. But, although semi-synchronous, it is one accredited course for one employer. The opportunity to offer more courses, some of them designed to enable staff to utilise new technology or practices, is wide open. Getting a contract to be the preferred supplier to the RAF is excellent. Can CAVC now take that forward and be CIPD trainers for the military globally? Can they modify their courses for India, South Africa, Canada, the US and the non-English speaking world?

It’s a challenge; but in the fourth education age we need to be the acknowledged experts, perhaps in a niche market, and dominate that market globally. Then we can charge what we are really worth and not accept the funding crumbs we are currently offered.

And if you decide the globe is too big then find a local market and make it yours. Plumpton College dominate wine courses in the UK. And their wine centre offers more than just FHE courses. They also run 22 part-time courses, some non-accredited, run in their commercial winery or vineyards, that can be taken by professionals or amateurs, JIT. Dominating UK then provides opportunities for overseas recruitment.

Why Employers Struggle to Recruit Quality Staff

When faced with 50% of young people going into HE, employers face a real problem.

Too many degrees and no way to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Just because someone has studied a module and has a degree it doesn’t mean they can apply that knowledge.

An apprentice is another matter. Their practical experience is demonstrable. And with an employment track record they can be assessed based on both knowledge and practical application. Any skills and knowledge gaps can be filled JIT.

And a graduate that has an accelerated degree, that includes work experience and a recognised qualification, plus a professional qualification, stands out as more employable.

Stop Gaps That Need Filling

These FHE routes are just a stop gap. The future will look different. JIT CPD could double or treble current learning time models.

A basic education with access to JIT CPD that builds a portfolio of competency based skills is an alternative to time based synchronous courses.

Overnight transition is not possible. But some providers have made a small start and have the potential to become global providers.

As for finance, there is strong evidence that individuals and businesses will pay substantial sums for the right courses.

Stefan Drew, Marketing Expert.

About Stefan DrewStefan 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. Connect with Stefan on LinkedIn  

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