Can digitisation help retain what makes FE great in the face of mergers?
Not a week goes by without news of the creation of another FE super-college. This week consultation has opened on the first phase of a new Cheshire-wide college, which will be formed by a link-up between four Cheshire and Warrington colleges, and a new university and college group serving 40,000 learners has been given the green light in Bolton and Bury.
Funding pressures from government mean that many colleges are looking to make savings and efficiencies by merging together to create larger more connected and resourceful institutions. The change is rapid too – 2016 will see more mergers than in the last decade, and it seems likely the trend will continue as the FE sector strives to adapt to the pressures it’s under.
But could the sector be doing more to recognize the benefits that digitisation brings?
Return on technology investment.
Digitisation is one area where colleges are currently failing to make the grade, mainly due to fear of the cost of investment. Recognition of ROI in terms of bringing together students, campuses, teachers as well as potential employers is key to success. If FE colleges are to continue to prepare students for the world of employment, the importance of technology in education must be recognised as both a delivery mechanism and as part of the curriculum. It’s the enabler to level up the playing field between those colleges that are on the brink of financial ruin and those that are keeping their heads above water – and delivers a mechanism for newly merged super colleges and those willing to invest in technology to go a step further and excel.
Removing duplication, sharing resources between colleges, driving efficiencies, collaboration and delivering measurable outcomes will spur institutions on to build next generation IT infrastructure. This in turn will support the delivery of smart digital services in order to enhance student engagement, innovation and productivity, whilst helping to reduce costs and meet some of the sector’s distinct challenges.
Supporting Diversity and personalising learning
FE colleges are known for their diversity. Students learn in a wide range of places, including college campuses, workplaces and private training providers and they offer very niche courses tailored to particular skills. The students often come from disadvantaged backgrounds and challenging circumstances, may not have achieved highly at school or had a successful academic career to date, often have English as a second or additional language and represent a cross section of all ages – from 16 to 60+ years old. The digital campus can support this diversity by removing physical barriers to learning whilst building new online resources that provide help, cohesion and direction for all.
Technology also allows us to personalise the learning experience for students based upon whatever diverse section of the student population they represent by assisting everyone to reach their learning potential. Individual performance can be analysed by each student’s digital footprint so that issues can be corrected before they become problems.
The digital campus has the ability to help both students and teachers bring about real change to traditional learning practices, blending both on and offline teaching, whilst delivering a personalised learning experience to a traditionally diverse student population – retaining what makes FE great, whilst providing the much needed efficiencies.
Come visit us at FELTAG 2016: Effectively Transitioning to Digital Further Education in London on Wednesday 28th September http://www.insidegovernment.co.uk/feltag-2016-effectively-transitioning-to-digital-further-education/