Like no time before the further education (FE) sector is under huge financial strain, with there being little in the way of reprieve on the horizon.
The need to find new efficiencies when purse strings are already being pulled tight is a very real challenge across the UK, and particularly for colleges in England going through area reviews1 – a key strand of the UK government’s plans for strengthening post-16 vocational education and training, to create more resilient, sustainable and effective colleges by reviewing provision at a local level.
For some providers, forging more collaborative links or merging with other organisations presents the most viable option of balancing cost-cutting against quality learning, teaching and assessment. I want to share examples of colleges who have already gone through mergers and transformation and the different approaches they have taken.
In 2010 three FE providers (Central College Glasgow, Glasgow Metropolitan College and Glasgow College of Nautical Studies) merged to create City of Glasgow College, with over 18,000 students and 1,000 staff.
Quite quickly the new structure needed to consolidate three different corporate systems and IT infrastructures, and create new ones, such as a single point of contact for students and staff.
With Jisc’s support, a technology costing review was carried out. Recommendations included better utilisation of existing systems and software as well as greater adoption of cloud services. In adopting the recommendations the college was able to move to the new operating model at speed, and amass savings of £250,000.
Bolstering online offer through videoconferencing
Grwp Llandrillo Menai – comprising the former Coleg Meirion Dwyfor, Coleg Menai and Coleg Llandrillo and incorporating 34,000 students – has used the opportunity of merger to expand its online learning offer.
Now, tutors use videoconferencing to teach across campuses and even between institutions and sectors. It delivers English-Welsh A-levels to schools in Wales, where it is not viable for these organisations to host a bilingual cohort themselves, whether that be because of lack of Welsh-medium resource, speakers, etc. Delivery is done through a mix of online contact hours, Moodle and shared e-learning resources, as well as physical visits.
Today the college has contracts to deliver 23 A-levels to over a hundred learners. Check out their Prezi about their distance learning platform for more information.
Effective, efficient procurement
Easton and Otley College arose from a merger in 2012. It employs around 800 people across two sites located 45 miles apart, with many working across both – making it particularly difficult to contact staff.
Needing a joined-up, cost-effective upgrade to its telephony systems, the college used Jisc’s telephony purchasing service. This service pre-qualifies vendors in line with Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) procurement rules, significantly shorting the time it takes for an organisation to procure.
It was important to the college that their new telephony agreement offered a quality service, gave more staff direct numbers, and was good value for money. With technical advice from Jisc, they selected a supplier that met all of their needs and was able to quickly implement. In fact, they were able to invest in a more comprehensive system due to it coming in under budget, including capabilities to compile call lists and create address books.
A top ten national FE provider with over 22,000 students, City of Liverpool College comprises the college, First4Skills and Liverpool Business Services.
In 2015 the group launched a new venture to support the accelerated transformation of FE organisations, called SharEd. Through SharEd the college and other organisations are able to outsource a variety of services – including HR, facilities, finance, IT and management information systems, as well as professional services and consulting. This frees up staff time to concentrate on core priorities and supports them in accelerating their own transformation.
It also helps deliver financial efficiencies. The service, which uses Jisc’s shared data centre agreement, is part of City of Liverpool’s outsourcing model, which has projected cost savings of 12-20% on its annual budget.
Increased collaboration through eduroam
The University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) Group is a dual sector, multi-institutional group in south-west Wales that includes further education colleges, Coleg Sir Gâr and Coleg Ceredigion. In total it caters for over 25,000 learners.
In merging UWTSD found itself managing multiple wireless access agreements, at a time when it was subject to an increasing number of learners, staff and devices wanting to get online, and the task of doing so becoming more onerous and raising security concerns.
To consolidate and simplify its wireless offer, all campuses deployed eduroam. This gives users’ single, seamless and secure sign-in as they use multiple devices on different campuses, while for the partners it makes it easier to collaborate across sites and the sectors.
Pooling quality resources
Glasgow Clyde College vested in 2013 with a merger between Anniesland, Cardonald and Langside colleges, to incorporate over 7,000 full-time and 20,000 part-time students across three sites. The merger left many silos, with learning and teaching content scattered across the three campuses.
Although still early days, the college is in the process of setting up an institution-wide learning and teaching repository to address this, which will host all learning and teaching materials.
With the new repository the college hopes to foster an improved sharing culture through a single system. Academic staff will be able to access and use all content related to their specific curriculum area, and even have the option of depositing other content that they find useful. It should reduce duplication in work and ensure better preservation, protection and quality in all materials.
Jisc is offering full support and guidance to its members going through area reviews.
If you would like any advice on mergers or transformation, or are going through area review, speak to your account manager who’ll be able to help with expert advice.
- 1 Detailed in the Department for Education's document on reviewing post-16 education and training institutions https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...