This isn’t an easy time to be in a leadership role in further education (FE).
Change in the sector is constant (and still gathering speed) meaning leaders face a daunting set of challenges. But with challenge comes opportunity. I was keen to understand what’s really important to the sector right now and the opportunities we have to shape our response, so earlier this year we launched our leadership survey.
FE leadership barometer
From their responses we developed our further education leadership barometer 2016. 78 leaders in FE told us what was exercising their minds, representing 18% of the UK’s FE institutions. This insight is helping us to focus our resources to help colleges and providers tackle some of the issues they face. Now we know the outcome of the EU referendum, our survey findings resonate even more.
We asked participants to rank a number of challenges by how important they are in terms of their college’s future success and also by the amount of effort that will be needed to achieve the desired outcome.
With recent funding cuts and general financial insecurity, it was no surprise that leaders rated the need to create - and sustain – a viable, adaptable financial and funding model as most important to organisational success.
Encouragingly, there are strong indications that FE organisations may have done some of the hard work in opening up alternative funding channels; this is the most likely explanation for the fact that this priority only ranked third when we asked about the amount of effort it will require.
So what are the toughest issues facing FE?
Our study reveals that creating an agile organisation is seen as the challenge that needs the most effort. A genuinely agile college or provider will be able to anticipate change and react appropriately to it but to do that, it will need to have its people and its processes all operating in a genuinely flexible way. This might be seen as a tall order. However, delivering on this will be achievable with the right teams equipped with up-to-date skills, a robust infrastructure and changing ways of working.
The leaders also said that the imperative to deliver more effective outcomes for learners and employers with scarcer resources will prove difficult to address. Here, we believe that technology will continue to play an increasingly pivotal role in enabling more (and better) learning to be delivered at lower cost.
Working with others
We also asked about stakeholders – which ones matter most, and how the organisation could be made more attractive to them. And with the requirement to meet the needs of the wider community in mind, we were surprised to see the relatively-low importance some colleges placed on alumni. Only 15% rated them as important to their future success.
I suspect that if we asked this question in the US we’d get a very different result.
Making organisations more attractive
Leaders recognise that there are many things that they can do to make their college a more attractive proposition, especially to learners, staff and employers.
Giving students an anytime, anywhere learning experience was one of the things that ranked highly. I agree that this is an important area and is one where we can help to support.
For example, we recently worked with a group of Welsh colleges to connect 25,000 of their learners across 17 campuses using one WiFi access solution – eduroam. The students and staff now benefit from a single log-in on multiple devices as they move between campuses.
The survey responses also highlighted how leaders thought collaborating with local employers would help their college stand out.
Using a blended learning model can certainly help the transition from education to employment, something exemplified by EDF Energy’s internship programme.
They designed Steps into Work for adults with disabilities who want to get into long term employment. These students work with EDF Energy employees and a teacher from National Star College is ‘embedded’ into the business to manage educational elements of the programme. Of the 14 graduates, ten are now in full time employment.
A strong-running theme throughout this survey told us that you want us to make our offer more visible and easier to access, so we’re taking action on this over the next year.
Share your thoughts
If you’d like to share your own thoughts on these issues please get in touch with Louisa Dale, director Jisc group sector intelligence.