Softening the blow of funding cuts with data
Friday, 26 June 2015 12:06 The FE Commissioner recently sent a letter addressed to All Chairs and Principals/CEOs of Corporations and FE Institutions, advising them on steps they should consider in order to save costs through “rationalisation” and “collaboration”.

The first part of the letter addresses rationalisation and begins by saying that an “increasing numbers of colleges are having to take some difficult decisions as to what they can afford to provide and how best they can provide it”. It then goes on to list some of the ways that this can be done, such as reducing internal inefficiencies, increasing class sizes, decreasing the percentage of income spent on staffing, and reviewing curriculum delivery models to include cost-efficient teaching such as online learning.
Having briefly addressed these issues, the letter moves on to say that once these initiatives have been exhausted, if finance is still a big problem it may be time to consider collaborating or even merging with other institutions. This is of course already going on, but the tone of the letter suggests that an increasing number of colleges are going to have to consider going down this route as funding becomes even tighter.
The remainder of the letter is dedicated to setting out some basic principles that should be borne in mind by colleges considering collaboration or merger. There are many points of interest for senior management teams, which you can read about here, but I want to pick up on one particular area that is touched upon.
According to the letter:
Agreeing the core purpose of the collaboration from the outset drives the type of structures which providers may wish to consider. These might be one or more of cost reduction, improving quality, investing in new sub-sectors relating to LEP or other employer priorities, growth into 14-16, HE or International markets, or protecting local provision.
What this statement is getting at is that any colleges thinking of collaborating or even merging should take steps to ensure that they do not cut services and courses that might harm learners and employers. Cutting costs is clearly one of the primary aims of merging, but it must be done with great caution, taking care to protect things like “employer priorities” and “local provision”.
There is also a section later on in the letter which says that decisions such as this should be taken on the basis of proper evidence, rather than according to subjective whims:
Governors have a critical role to play in key decisions about structure and in the interests of their college and more importantly its learners and employers. Fundamentally they must be as objective as possible. Objectivity means cutting through any vested interests, ensuring that ultimately decisions are made on data and other firm evidence, and not basing too much reliance on memories of past success.
Put these two things together and what do we have? Really a call for colleges that do decide to collaborate or merge to ensure that any decisions they make are made using objective data, in order to ensure that what they do isn’t detrimental to learners and employers.
This is where I think good local data can really help. In particular, one of the ways that data can really be effective in this area is in mapping courses to local employment trends to establish areas of over or under-supply. Colleges who are planning to collaborate or to merge together could take a joint approach, mapping their combined provision against the needs of the local labour market, and so be well placed to see which areas of their curricula, if any, can be cut without causing real harm to the aspirations of learners and the needs of employers.
I appreciate that none of this is exactly going to thrill anyone in the sector. Cuts rarely excite. Yet there is a need to be realistic, and the reality, as the letter says, is that “there is clearly not enough money for the sector to continue as it is and rationalisation and collaboration is the new order of the day.”
There is therefore very much a need to be pragmatic and to take the kinds of steps that will bring about the “least worst scenario” available to us at this time. If this means colleges having to collaborate or even merge, with certain courses being axed, objective Labour Market Data which maps courses to the needs of the local economy really ought to play a fundamental role in informing where the axe should fall.
Anthony Horne is the head of Further Education for Economic Modelling Specialists International

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About Paul Champion

Some have called me a leader, and a entrepreneur, they say I have integrity, presence and skills to ensure continuous improvement and success in whatever challenges I face. They also tell me that I am positive, resilient and motivating. I say, I'm just a normaI guy from Gateshead in the North of England, who started as an apprentice engineer. I have been in the right place at the right time and in the wrong place at the wrong time! I have successfully initiated and led complex organizations and situations to completion and success, and I have been in some jobs where success seemed untouchable. Mainly though, I have tried to learn everyday, help people to progress and learn the skills they need to be successful. I have had the privilege of working with some great people locally across the UK and more recently internationally in Asia, Europe and now USA, where I am lucky enough to work for where I am head of 3aaa USA. This website is just me having an outlet to talk about all those thoughts, ideas and things I learn that pass through my head every day when I face the challenge of doing business. I will also rant on about how great apprenticeships are, and how you can help change peoples lives through them. After all thats how I got to do the great things that I have done, and also I am still an apprentice everyday! All I ask is that if you find it interesting then leave a comment and share what you read. THANK YOU.

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