Using technology across key performance indicators can help colleges to achieve greater success, says Rob Elliott

Every college wants to be successful in the quality of its provision, positive outcomes for students and, of course, long-term financial stability. And with the government’s plan to appoint an FE commissioner with the power to control and close struggling institutions, all need to prove their performance is up to scratch.

The correct use of technology can boost the management of all five key performance indicators identified in last year’s Learning and Skills Improvement Service report, Improving efficiency and effectiveness: a guide for colleges and provider.

To check that you are heading in the right direction, here’s a brief checklist of how technology could help you to raise your game.

Academic staff utilisation: a clear picture is vital. Staff pay can represent around 70 per cent of costs within a college so you must look at the availability, skill sets and mix of teaching and support staff. Then cross-check with the structure of your curriculum, how timetables are blocked and even staff locations if you are multi-campus.

This is extraordinarily difficult to do accurately without a management information system, and yet typical staff utilisation has been known to be as low as 70 per cent.

Curriculum efficiency: the most successful colleges optimise not only the curriculum that they offer, but also the manner in which it is delivered — and that means getting to grips with two major funding methodology changes, a tidal wave of guidance and consultations, funding rates, retention factors, area cost uplifts… I could go on.

Two things can really help. First, become well-informed. Seek out those in the sector that understand the implications inside out — audit companies, independent advisers — and pick their brains. Second, funding will always be complex, so make good use of comprehensive planning software to gather all the factors that you need to make calculations – and to take account of ‘what ifs’.

The right technology in the right hands will assist with accurate and constant monitoring”

Group size: it pays to know whether there are 12 or 20 students in your class. One extra student in a group could bring in up to £3,500 of extra funding without any significant increase in cost or a reduction in the quality of education.

The right technology in the right hands will assist with accurate and constant monitoring, tracking the viability of courses and allowing senior management to promptly react to in-year changes. This could be spotting common units across qualifications and deciding to bring two small groups of students together, therefore reducing costs by 50 per cent, or quickly intervening if a course doesn’t attract enough enquiries to be feasible.

Success rates by course: switched-on colleges will model different qualifications within an overall programme, with various start and finish dates. This means that if a plumbing apprentice drops out in the second term, he or she may still be able to walk away with the health and safety qualification completed in term one — good news for your success rates.

However, be careful. By definition, a model is a simplified representation of reality, so check that your management information system can model at a detailed enough level to ensure that your college is rewarded for its successes.

Support costs as percentage of income: using technology to reduce support costs can be the key to maximising resources at the chalk face.

Adopt a policy of entering data once, then reusing it many times, and your staff will save valuable time.

The result will be a far better overall experience for students — which is arguably the most important key performance indicator of all.

Rob Elliott, UK products manager for Capita’s further and higher education business