From education to employment

Using 21st Century tools for college success

Is your college maximising its chances of viability and growth by using technology to meet KPIs? asks Capita’s Rob Elliott

Underperforming FE colleges are set to face tougher consequences, and with a new FE Commissioner on the horizon wielding shutdown powers for failing colleges, the importance of knowing your performance is up to standard has never been higher.

The quality of educational provision and qualifications, as well as long-term financial stability, all need to be considered when it comes to success. Technology can help improve efficiency in these areas so it’s prudent to make sure you are using it well.

The Learning and Skills Improvement Service report, ‘Improving efficiency and effectiveness: a guide for colleges and providers’, identified five key performance indicators (KPIs) that the most successful colleges manage well, and technology offered a tangible benefit in each area. Here’s a brief checklist of how.

Academic Staff utilisation

Typical staff utilisation can be as low as 70%, so there are clear efficiency gains to be made here. However, it’s a complicated process with many variables so your management information system (MIS) has a key role to play.

For maximum efficiency, make sure you are exploiting the full capability of your MIS to investigate the mix of teaching and support staff, skill sets and availability. Then cross check with curriculum structure, timetable blocking and staff locations.  Staff pay can represent more than two thirds of costs within a college, so it’s an exercise well worth carrying out.

Curriculum efficiency

The most successful colleges optimise not only the curriculum they offer, but also the manner in which it is delivered. That means getting to grips with two major funding methodology changes, the wealth of available guidance and consultations, funding rates, retention factors, area cost uplifts…you get the picture.

Navigating through funding options can be a complicated business so the first step is to become as well-informed as possible. Read everything you can, consult your peers and seek out those in the sector that fully understand the implications. Then, take full advantage of the comprehensive planning software that exists, which can gather all the factors required to make calculations and undertake ‘what if’ scenarios.

Group size

Ask a lecturer what they think their average class size is and you might hear, “20…no, maybe 17”. The reality is likely to be closer to 12.  When one extra student in a group could bring in up to £3500 of additional funding, without increasing costs (same lecturer, same classroom) or impacting on the quality of education, it certainly pays to know your numbers.

The technology exists to assist with accurate and continual monitoring of group sizes,  tracking the practicability of courses to ensure viability and allowing senior management to react promptly to in-year changes. Could two small classes with high levels of cross-over in your college become one?

It’s beneficial to use your MIS to join up curriculum, enrolments, timetables and registers. This will give a clear and complete picture during planning and delivery.

Success rates by course

Modelling different qualifications within an overall programme, with various start and finish dates, means that if, for example, a plumbing apprentice drops out in the second term, they may still be able to walk away with the Health and Safety qualification they completed in term one. This is good news for your success rates. But by definition, a model is a simplified representation of reality so check your MIS can model at a granular enough level to ensure your college is rewarded for the successes it achieves.

Support costs as percentage of income

Cutting costs without reducing quality of teaching can be a key challenge for any institution. Technology makes trimming down support costs by eliminating unnessary tasks a real opportunity – either by entering data once then reusing it many times, or by introducing elements of self-service that allow students to tap in the data themselves.

By maximising resource at the chalk face, you stand the best chance of achieving one of the most important KPIs of all – the best possible student experience.

Rob Elliott is UK products manager for Capita’s further and higher education business

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