Some of us find sharing difficult, some of us don’t play nice with others…some of us don’t even realise this.

Colleges are not known for playing nice with their neighbouring colleges. The closest college is, in the main, a vicious competitor who knows no boundaries… who will stop at nothing to steal your students, steal your PR and spend more money on advertising than you do.

They do interesting deals with bus companies, might have sparkly new buildings and their principal’s teeth may be whiter than yours… in short, they are the enemy.

The fastest shared mode of transport to incarceration is to set up a cartel and start price fixing.”

So, when it was announced that millions, yes millions of pounds would be spent on college collaborations, agitator was intrigued, wide mouthed even. How could this be?

£2.3million has gone to the AoC and, £2.3million has gone to the 157 Group, yes that’s right readers, £4.6million of government money has been ‘shared’, and this spending of millions to save millions, confounds me. Call me old fashioned, but why would I want to share commercially sensitive services, and valuable information with my competitors.

“Oh grow up”, I hear you say, “we’re big boys playing in a grown up sector, we can be friends, help each other and, once we’ve spent these millions, we will be able to save millions more.”

No, you won’t! Take off those rose tinted specs (they don’t suit you), slap yourself and take a huge whiff of strong black coffee.

Protectionism is rife in FE, the funding and targets that we all strive to meet make it that way, and don’t forget, despite what your principal looks like, we’re all human.

It’s a car crash waiting to happen, a conspiracy of fools…”

Most principals have massive egos; it’s part of the job. It comes with the oversized desk and the dual aspect windows.

Partnership has become a ‘buzz’ word of late and these unnatural collaborations, forced into being, by a pot of money are destined to fail. The fastest shared mode of transport to incarceration is to set up a cartel and start price fixing.

You could screw down the price quoted from awarding bodies, nail building firms to the wall over quotes and, circumnavigate data protection laws, getting the low down on staff and students.

And, when those shared services are up and running consultation can rear its ugly head and, you can brace yourself for an unpleasant round of redundancies.

As one principal told me, “It’s a car crash waiting to happen, a conspiracy of fools…” just wait and see: a high profile EU court case, unfair competition, laws broken and redundancies…

Collaboration will only lead to collusion, that’s not going to be good for staff, learners or colleges in the long run.


Agitator has just seen some of the comments to FE Week’s page three story (click here) about this on line and there may be a saving grace.

Regular commentator Steve Hewitt must have had a large swig of something which got his creative juices flowing (don’t doubt it, agitator has seen his tweets when he’s had a few). Steve  reckons that shared services might be just the thing to sort some of the SMTs out.

He posted: “…wonder whether reducing the number of Senior Post-holders is the easiest way to share a “service”? Can we not just share principals? Think of the savings!

Richard Teare on the other had has suggested: “If shared services are the panacea that politicians and others seem to think they are, why do we have a Civil Service (which apparently administers this country) that is -what?-twice as large now than when we “ruled”/administered 1/3rd of the planet?”

Hmmm… food for thought indeed. Given the weather this weekend, share a two-scoop?

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  1. Steve Hewitt’s idea parallels the “virtual mergers” of social landlords. When banks were obstructing housing associations from merging, social landlords drew up plans to merge everything apart from the legal entities. Steve’s idea isn’t so radical but sharing good principals and their teams has plenty of potential.

    The Agitator should remember that not all colleges compete with all colleges. Collaborations could be on a regional basis so the participants are not direct competitors.

    How about colleges collaborating with universities, schools or even local authorities?

    Shared services may not be a panacea but they do offer some interesting options.

    • I’m not against mergers. They often make sense – not least when they involve financially unstable and weak colleges being put out of their misery. However, sometimes mergers are driven by other interests, undue optimism about “synergies” and myopia when it comes to costs.

      I would hope – and, to some extent, expect – that shared services would be considered in a more objective manner.

      It is worth remembering that shared services may allow colleges to carry on with healthy competition while reducing back-office costs through gaining economies with other colleges or other organisations.

      • fair enough, but, as the agitator says, what back office functions *can* be shared without fear of cartel-forming? certainly can’t be MIS/Course info without a ridiculous set of chinese walls, not to mention that every college has different course set-ups and often different software. Even HR/payroll aren’t going to see much saving due to every college having different pay rates/t&cs (oh, for a national pay scale and national contract!). I’m assuming finance/accounts is out of the question for auditing reasons so beyond that, what *are* the back office services?

  2. Lesley Ellis

    It’s not just colleges! As an indepnedent training provider who is attracting the transfer of Apprentices from a college – I was actually called by the Principal tp “make a deal”.

  3. Eugene Greco

    Why is this behaviour a surprise to anyone? The funding body, when it was the LSC, made no bones about the fact that it was a “market maker”. A market works on the survival of the strongest, not the nicest or most collaborative.
    Principals are driven (not necessarily exclusively but to whatever degree), by a need to succeed in order to secure their personal future and prosperity. Don’t judge them for playing the game to win.
    This is a feature of the system we have – it’s also probably why so much of our national politics is so bogus and dysfunctional.

  4. Eddie C

    Could you imagine Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea sharing services, such as training grounds, managers, coaches, trainers and physiotherapist?

    If both teams got to the final of the FA Cup, would Manchester United and Manchester City block book a train to travel to London and then block book the same hotel to save costs?

  5. In Europe several football clubs share grounds. Closer to home, football and rugby clubs ground share in Hull, Wigan, Huddersfield, Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea. Couldn’t universities, General FE colleges, sixth form colleges, and schools find some common interests?

  6. There are plenty of back-office services that be shared across Colleges with significant opportunities to realize savings without provoking acromony.

    Lincoln, West Notts, and Chesterfield Colleges recently submitted a joint bid to the 157 group for a disk-based backup shared service which would have produced significant savings and improved the service across all 3, as well as providing a platform for offering the service to other Colleges who cannot afford this type of service in isolation.

    Unfortunately, the bid was declined, so our Colleges will now need to look at putting this together without funding, but it would have been a great opportunity to show case collaboration!