More than £3.5m of public money was paid out by 23 principals to Gazelle group of colleges, FE Week revealed in edition 107, where it was also highlighted that the highest-paying individual college dished out £642,000. The editor’s comment went on to question the wisdom of such spending in light of the fact no independent research had been published looking at what, if any, benefits that membership of Gazelle brings. Stella Mbubaegbu CBE responds on behalf of Gazelle.

We are taking this opportunity to set out in some detail what we believe Gazelle delivers and why colleges have chosen to align themselves with the common goal of developing an entrepreneurial and enterprising culture and practice.

The Gazelle Colleges Group is a not-for-profit membership group, and I am writing in the capacity of elected chair. We are a democratic group where both the leadership and spend are collectively debated and determined.

The Gazelle impact has been real for our colleges

Here we seek to set out the facts as they stand on investment within the group. Above all we want to be clear about the aims and objectives of Gazelle — and essentially it is to help colleges create more vibrant learning environments and experiences for students, and to prepare for a challenging financial future where enterprise and new revenue growth will be necessary to help compensate for loss of public funding.

The primary impacts and benefits of Gazelle are the sharing of knowledge, enterprise competitions, leadership development, entrepreneur network, curriculum development and commerciality.

So firstly, knowledge sharing and the organised and coordinated sharing of innovation, training and research across 23 colleges. We have six cross-college working groups in areas ranging from curriculum development to commercial growth, teaching and learning, marketing and student experience and science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem).

This shared activity is producing major benefits, including a model for Gazelle Stem centres, pioneered by South West College, now adopted by two additional Gazelle colleges with more to follow.

Secondly, on enterprise competitions, Gazelle has encouraged and enabled significant student engagement in national enterprise competitions and in a range of social enterprise activities. In the past three years, students from across the college network have participated in both the Market Maker Challenge and the Pantrepreneur social enterprise competition.

These are essential to the motivation and development of students, equipping them with skills, experience and confidence that traditional qualifications alone cannot.

Thirdly, leadership development and since 2012 Gazelle has been working with Babson College, America’s leading business school for entrepreneurship, to co-create a leadership development programme in which 90 staff have now participated. Indeed this has been evaluated in considerable detail by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), a supportive report we will invite the ETF to make more widely available.

Fourthly, entrepreneur network. Gazelle has developed an exceptional network of business leaders and entrepreneurs for the benefit of our member colleges. Our colleges are challenged to grow income and create new markets and to this end we are working with people who have experience at the highest level. Contributors to Gazelle events and reports have included Confederation of British Industry (CBI) director-general John Cridland CBE, Patisserie Valerie owner Luke Johnson and former Dyson chief executive Martin McCourt.

Fifthly was curriculum development
and more than 60 curriculum leaders at Gazelle colleges have completed world-class training and development with university and college practitioners from around the world.

The learning from this activity has already manifested itself in quite radical curriculum reform in many Gazelle colleges, increasing relevance and reducing costs to students.

Finally, commerciality. The development of the Gazelle Learning Company model is helping to create both a realistic commercial environment in which students learn vital business skills, and also new revenue streams for colleges through employer partnerships and enhanced recruitment potential. We are working with the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, the CBI and the ETF on an independent evaluation of this.

Gazelle’s overriding ambition remains to equip colleges and students alike for a fast-changing world and we welcome an honest dialogue on how this is to be achieved.

We do not pretend to have all the answers, but are confident that the Gazelle impact has been real for our colleges and that the group and its aims will continue to flourish in the years to come.

Stella Mbubaegbu CBE, chair of the Gazelle Colleges Group and principal of Highbury College, Portsmouth