Could Dashboards provide a constant for FE establishments?

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dasboards-for-feDespite being part of the Government’s reforms to increase the number of apprenticeships to three million by 2020, the latest is that apprenticeship providers are in fact facing a “horror story” of bankruptcy and failure, with many receiving funding levy allocations that amount to just a fraction of their current delivery. In fact, some further education (FE) establishments are reporting cuts of more than 80 per cent compared with the previous year.

This is another blow for Britain’s further, and higher, education sector. Despite being one of the most successful in the world, the number of non-EU international students fell to 134,000 in 2016; the lowest number recorded since 2002. Brexit hasn’t helped either, a 9% decline in EU student numbers over the past six months alone is adding further pressure on our global standing. And to add further fuel to the fire, mergers to drive efficiency are resulting in redundancies and leaner institutions, leaving colleges both under-skilled and under-resourced.

With so many changes afoot, it’s essential that FE colleges have the right management system in place.  While it’s always been necessary for Further Education (FE) providers to collect, generate and disseminate marketing information, its effective use has never been so vital. But whilst today’s colleges have more access to data than ever before, it can be a huge task to make sense of it all. Many still use outdated legacy systems that just can’t keep up with, or even provide, the information they need. With data tied up in different systems, the process of pulling it all together is manual and laborious, using up time that could be better spent targeting new students.

Web-based, college-specific student data analysis software maximises a college’s existing investment in its legacy systems by being flexible enough to bring reliable data feeds from each source, provide analysis and give a holistic view of college-wide performance which is easily accessible to all. Providing colleges with accurate, real-time monitoring and reporting of key performance indicators, they deliver greater visibility of student success, achievement and recruitment across the whole organisation, reducing the need for time-consuming, and often inaccurate, ad-hoc reporting.

By allowing you to stack different data sources side-by-side, dashboard tools enable FE organisations to explore data, ask questions, and seek correlations. This single view of operations is essential to cut through irrelevant information and clearly map performance, identify trends and help predict future opportunities that were previously out of view.

As the battle for students becomes ever greater, the provision of real time, consistent and comparable data will be increasingly essential to gain a competitive edge. Data visualisation is quickly becoming the standard and colleges which embrace dashboards will find that they can make smarter decisions, quickly, helping them to stay competitive and attractive in comparison to other colleges in the region and frees up time to focus on interventions; whether that’s increasing the number of applications, raising retention rates; meeting priorities in terms of local skills shortages, or improving student performance and satisfaction.

In light of the Apprenticeship Levy, FE providers need to be much smarter in the ways that they use market intelligence data, understand what individuals and employers value and are prepared to pay for, and clearly publicise the benefits of their training programmes. Today’s students have so much choice; there is high competition for enrolments, and online learning and the ease of transport means that students no longer go to the college nearest to their home. Therefore, the importance of scoping and getting course offerings right is crucial. Dashboard software provides FE colleges with the data required to plan and deliver apprenticeship programmes.  When selecting training providers, businesses are looking for the reassurance that they can deliver the skills they need to support the on-the-job training they are providing. The data can also begin to inform colleges on curriculum planning for next year, revealing the courses that will need to be adapted to ensure they attract more students; or discontinued if the demand is not there.

By providing colleges with accurate, real-time monitoring and reporting of key performance indicators, dashboards also deliver greater visibility of student success, attainment and recruitment across the whole organisation. This not only reduces administration time but ensures all apprenticeship data – lead conversions, enrolment figures, success rates by department, current and predicted minimum contract value –  is clearly and easily available to potential employers in real-time. While dashboards give a holistic view of current performance, they also provide the ability to drill down to highlight specific priorities. The flexibility to segment and filter data avoids staff being overloaded with irrelevant information and give great focus to campaign management. It’s also possible to link local economic market data into dashboards, enabling the accurate mapping of skills requirements for local business and compete more effectively.

With better access to student data, early pre-emptive management interventions can be taken to mitigate potential issues that arise. It’s safe to say that with Government incentives to try and make all colleges self-sufficient and debt-free, educational institutions can expect more change in the coming years. It is therefore vital that the FE sector is prepared for this, and the use of a dashboard is one of the best ways to do this. By using dashboards to manage data, colleges can know exactly where they stand at any given moment, giving them a competitive edge in difficult times.

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