Anxiety over government funding tools

Anxiety over government funding tools

Government further education (FE) funding software is “not functional” and there are “serious problems across all government agencies related to data”, according to the College Management Information Systems (CMIS) network.

A letter seen by FE Week and supported by more than a hundred FE colleges says the Learner Information Suite (LIS), is the source of some of the sector’s most serious systems-based problems.
“The LIS is still not functional,” the letter states.

“An update was released on Friday (November 18, 2011), which was rapidly withdrawn as it was still not functioning correctly.”

LIS is free government software designed to be used by all providers to calculate funding and validate data, known as the Individualised Learner Record (ILR).

Colleges and other providers then return the ILR online to the Data Service, an organisation funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and supported by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), to act as a single, central point of information for FE.

“We are unable to accurately say how much funding from our contract we have used to date, which means that it is very difficult for us to manage what provision we should be offering for the rest of the year,” the letter states.

Providers are expected to use the LIS to submit the next critical data return, known as R04 ILR, by December 6.

The latest Data Service newsletter, published on November 24, states: “Recent discussions on feconnect, JISCMail and email have highlighted that some providers are concerned about the upcoming 2011/12 R04 ILR deadline due to issues with supporting systems, such as the LIS and the Provider Data Self-Assessment Toolkit, which allow them to check their data quality before sending it in.

“The funding agencies understand that providers are concerned about the impact this may have on funding allocations, reconciliations and performance management, particularly given the current tough financial environment, but are assured that any legitimate provider concerns can be raised with the appropriate funding agency directly.

“For the R04 return, providers are required to send data for ALL of their learners so that the YPLA, the SFA and National Apprenticeship Service are able to gauge the numbers of learners and learning aims within the system.

“The Data Service would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused to providers having issues with the LIS and the Online Data Collection system.”

However, a spokesperson for the SFA told FE Week: “As mentioned in Update 84, ‘Providers are advised that the current LIS V19.01Maintenance Release 2 is adequate for the R04 ILR return due on December 6, 2011.”

The Data Service has also published an 11-page document identifying a number of known issues associated with the current version of LIS.

Problems identified in the report include the amalgamation performance of LIS becoming slow, as well as the software becoming unresponsive during a Batch Import process.

Providers have been advised by the Data Service to submit their R04 ILR return early “to ensure that it is validated and processed in time.”

In response, the letter from members of the CMIS network states: “This means that the ‘deadlines’ provided by the Information Authority now have to be exceeded in order to guarantee that quarterly reconciliation and lagged learner model are using accurate numbers.

“It would be grossly unfair for a provider to be penalised for the shortcomings of a central system.

“Surely meeting a submission deadline fulfils our part of the contract?”

The letter also suggests that many providers have had incorrect provider factors submitted to the LIS in the past, resulting in the calculation of incorrect funding.

The letter states: “We feel that the Data Service has performed unacceptably of late in providing the sector with the tools it needs to meet central requirements.

“There is no apparent accountability here.”

The letter was discussed in a recent meeting by the Association of Colleges (AoC) and Martin Doel, its chief executive, will be writing independently to Geoff Russell, SFA chief executive.

Matt Dean, Technology Manager at the AoC, said: “AoC recognises that problems with the delivery of software tools by the SFA have been ongoing for some time, but they are acute this year and this has led to a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty for colleges.”