Writing in the Guardian last week, Dr Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group of colleges, gave her response to the vision for the Further and Higher Education sectors which was recently set out by Liam Byrne, Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills. After praising Mr Byrne for understanding “the real potential that a revitalised vocational education system has in fuelling economic growth and improving people’s prospects,” Dr Sedgmore went on to add some ideas of her own that she believes should be taken into account by any government that is serious about unlocking the potential of vocational education.
One of the points she makes is that there is a tendency to judge vocational courses purely on whether they lead directly to a job, whereas academic programmes are generally judged using a far more holistic set of criteria. It is perhaps an understandable assumption to make, given the nature of vocational training, yet as Dr Sedgmore points out, it can be a false standard if it becomes the standard by which vocational learning is measured:
“It isn’t right that vocational courses are judged by the government purely on whether they lead directly to a job, whereas this isn’t true of academic programmes. All education is as much about building personal qualities, such as self-esteem and resilience, as it is about preparing people for working life. When assessing if a course is successful, the same criteria should be applied, whether delivered by a college, school or university.”
This is a point that came up several times in our Economic Impact Study User Group, which you can read about by clicking on the image to the left. Yet this does beg the question: if colleges shouldn’t be judged solely on whether their training is leading people into jobs, how then can success be measured? According to Dr Sedgmore, there are many other aspects of what a college does that should be taken into account:
“We need to be clear that the effectiveness of a college is about its standing in its community, its reputation among students and employers, and its role in the development of its local workforce and economy. None of these areas can be clearly judged by success rate data or by measuring what proportion of learners go into employment or further education.”
This is clearly a much more holistic approach to measuring the success of an institution, but what does it look like in practice? One important measure to look at is the economic impact a college has on its community. As Dr Sedgmore acknowledges:
“Many colleges can also quantify their economic impact, for example by showing the income brought into the area by students or the new start ups its helped develop, and this should be included in reports.”
By itself, measuring the economic impact of an institution is never going to tell the whole story. Yet it does tell a vital part of the story and a part that an increasing number of colleges — including many from the 157 Group — have sought to tell over the past few years via our Economic Impact Studies. By measuring economic and social impact, colleges are able to quantify and articulate what everybody in the sector already knows, but cannot necessarily prove: that they really do play a hugely important role in the life of the local economy, bringing massive benefits for learners, employers, and the community as a whole.
For examples of just how crucial this role is, and how colleges can capitalise on having their value articulated, we urge you to read some of our case studies, including East Durham College, East Berkshire College and the Sheffield City Region Colleges.
For more details of how our Economic Impact Studies can help you measure your value, email Andy Durman on firstname.lastname@example.org