From education to employment

What’s top of your agenda?

The pace of the challenges and changes in further education just doesn’t let up. With a new academic year only a handful of months away, here are three things that should be at the top of the agenda for any college striving to be innovative and resilient.

1. Plan Your Programme Strategically

Financial viability continues to be at the forefront of many principals’ minds. 2012/13 will at least be a stable year for funding as the dust settles from this academic year’s ILR changes. However, in 2013/14 there will be a major rationalisation of funding rates for 16-19 year olds, which will potentially move to programme based funding, and a 19+ simplification – both driven by the Wolf Report.

There are shadow calculations available (see which can help you look at your current adult skills curriculum and see what the financial effect will be if you run the same qualifications as this year and get the same number of enrolments. Using this in conjunction with curriculum modelling software to see what happens if you remodel the course portfolio, for example offering more ICT apprenticeships or fewer animal care courses, will mean you can make fully informed decisions on what you choose to offer.

As well as promoting apprenticeships, recent reforms have encouraged FE and sixth form colleges to increase their HE provision. Funding has now been allocated for 20,000 degree courses at institutions charging fees of £7500 or less – with approx 50% being allocated to colleges. This is a strategic way for FE colleges to maximise funding and help secure their long-term stability.

Those institutions that take the leap, however, will need to consider the back office implications as well as the more obvious ones. If a college’s IT system cannot cope with managing the data from all the different funding streams, or FE and HE data can only be interrogated separately, there’s the real risk of creating counterintuitive inefficiencies when it comes to timetabling or staff/facilities utilisation. Taking a holistic view of the courses being offered, and collating data for both FE and HE in one place will be paramount in ensuring income and out-goings are well-balanced.

2. Monitor Motivation

Retention is a perennial problem, and at this time of year the focus needs to be on ensuring those who started the course sit the exam. Retention statistics show a cliff-edge of withdrawal before exams, which is bad news for learners as well as college funding and the additional cost of unrequired awarding body fees.

However, if your ICT systems ensure that student records, attendance and exam systems are joined up, this might not be an issue. You’ll have had a clear view of exam entrants, and been able to engage and motivate students to avoid any last minute drop-outs.

Next year (2013/14) will see the introduction of FE loans, and the sector is currently waiting for the publication of the impact assessment report from BIS. As always when something new is introduced, the concept has its supporters (you don’t start paying back the loan until you earn more than £21,000 a year and those who qualify at Level 3 or above tend to earn more anyway) and its detractors (at a time when skills mean employability, will the loans discourage people from applying?).

No matter what your stance, colleges need to factor FE loans into their business plans, and ensure they have the systems in place to provide data streams on which qualifications and apprenticeship frameworks are eligible.

3. Embrace Online

As the peak month for enrolments, September is arguably the busiest time of the year for colleges. Extended opening hours, long prospective-student queues and additional staff being drafted in to help is often the norm. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Students increasingly expect everything they need to be online, with the popularity of mobile technology showing no signs of dying down. So, if your heart is sinking at the thought of another frantic enrolment period, now is the time to consider moving to online enrolments in time for September 2013.

Online enrolment can dramatically speed up the whole process, cut down on paper and improve the accuracy of collected data, which, once captured, can then be used many times.

In the same vein, online admissions processes can increase recruitment success, especially if there are online payment facilities available, and give instant access to application numbers.

Taking the process a step further and having an online enquiry system as well can enhance a college’s ability to understand and react to demand – a useful insight when economic times are tough.

Keeping track of who is enquiring about what will reveal trends in what is and isn’t popular, and might even pinpoint areas where demand exists that isn’t being fulfilled currently, perhaps due to location, class timings or staff availability. This is the type of knowledge that can help keep classrooms full.

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

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