From education to employment

Overcoming college funding issues without insanity

I recently conducted a survey of principals to find out what issues were currently high on their agendas, what was keeping them awake at night.

Perhaps predictably the major issues reported were around funding and quality.

One principal said he was still trying to absorb the horrendous (pre-Christmas) letter from the Department for Education on cuts to 18+ funding. Another was concerned over Ofsted and how to retain quality in light of funding reductions. And yet another was absorbed with working with its local enterprise partnership (I detected a funding undertone here).

It seemed to me, as I scanned several dozen responses, that money was at the root of all these worries.

Although I have very few answers for releasing more DFE funding and other elements of the funding equation, I do have other important thoughts.

I use the term “funding equation” advisedly as this is about arithmetic! The outcome colleges want is solvency – a plus figure to the right hand side of the equation. But to the left are two factors: income and expenditure. If we can’t increase income (and we should keep trying) we need to decrease expenditure.

I can almost hear the cries of exasperation at this stage. Of course you cut all the slack years ago. Since then you’ve looked hard several more times and found a few more pennies that could be saved and you made those cuts as well.

But have you really examined all potential areas of savings – or how to increase income?

Welcome to the world of insanity

It was Einstein who defined insanity as “doing the same things over and over but expecting different results”.

In a sense that is what we all do. We keep trying to do the same things over and over again and expect our finances to improve. It is never going to happen!

Savings and income generation

I’ve recently been working with a university that starts the teaching year in June and teaches 50 weeks of the year. The capital savings this offers are huge. Their fixed and variable costs are spread over more weeks and are effectively reduced.

Could FE providers do something similar? I think the answer has to be yes. Why do we persist in cramming the teaching year into so few weeks? It is costly and unnecessary.

Why not use teaching space all year? At this stage I can hear someone say “he’ll expect us to teach on Christmas Day next”, but my answer is, why not?

Making equality and diversity profitable

One of my private provider clients had a really good Christmas and New Year. They even ran courses on Christmas Day.

How is it possible to run a course on Christmas Day? Well, as a private provider of catering and food manufacturing courses they responded to client demand and respected the religion and culture of their clients. For one client, Christmas Day is not a holiday; it is a normal working day and “back home” government offices, shops, etc, open as normal. Here in the West their production tails off for a few days after Christmas Eve, so it is a great time to train.

Who taught the course? My client has recruited a trainer from the same culture. This private provider made a point of looking for the opportunities that diversity offered and didn’t close his doors because his culture celebrated Christmas.

Behaving differently

To generate more income and spread overheads requires us to address behaviours and business processes we have never examined before.

Business processes tend to work on the “we’ve always done it this way” methodology. It is easy to believe we are efficient. But are we actually insane by Einstein’s measure?

A college I recently worked with had major recruitment problems as their paperwork systems still adhered to pre-Internet policies. To get from A-Z they believed that they needed to progress through B, C, D, etc. When we examined the process we discovered that they had a state of the art website but still used a ‘quill pen’ admin process that was costly, unnecessary and off-putting to prospective students. The result was recruitment insanity and declining numbers.

Of course the recruitment team understood the problem and had been vociferous in the early years, but had now given up and the process was embedded without the problems now being obvious to those that could make the simple changes we eventually applied. The college discovered sanity and that the best route from A-Z is a straight line.

So my challenge is for FE to examine the funding equation from a new perspective.

Marketing consultant Stefan Drew was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and now works with providers throughout the UK, Europe and the US. Visit:


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