This piece was written for FE News.
One of the most common areas of discussion I am having with senior management in the Further Education sector right now is that of “demonstrating positive intent and impact”. This is perhaps unsurprising, since Ofsted have recently included sections on Intent and Impact in their proposed new Education Inspection Framework. But with the spotlight on these themes, it is perhaps an opportune time to look at whether we can measure the outcomes of Intent and Impact in a tangible way.
The answer is we can, but what is particularly interesting is how many different angles of measuring Intent and Impact are highlighted by college leaders. For example, here’s a sample of some of the comments I’ve heard over recent weeks from college principals, about what they would like to be able to measure:
“We are a huge employer in this area; surely that must support wider economic activity?”
“There is so much talk about productivity in this country – can we measure how our provision contributes to that?”
“It’s a yearly slog to justify funding and we often have to make tough decisions to cut back. How can we better fight our corner in proving to government that funding is important?”
“We have gone through a strategic planning process over a number of years, to ensure that our provision is more aligned to the local labour market. This should be taken into account and we should get credit for that.”
“It’s not just about jobs. FE still has that wider role to improve chances for people in a number of different ways and to improve our local communities more widely.”
These are all really important issues, and you can probably pick up on the sense of frustration that these principals all feel on the one hand knowing that their college undoubtedly makes a huge contribution, but on the other hand lacking the means to be able to articulate this.
But the really pleasing thing for me is being able to tell these principals that actually these things can be measured in a tangible way. Let’s briefly look at them in turn.
1. The College as a business
Colleges are indeed often one of the largest employers in an area, spending significant amounts on wages, goods and supplies, an buildings etc. This spending then “multiplies” through the local and regional economy, and this is something that is not only specific to the local college economy, but can be tracked and measured as it flows through.
2. Impact on productivity
Despite the various areas of interest that we are discussing here, I’m quite sure that all colleges would agree that the most important thing to them are their students, particularly in terms of increasing the chances of them gaining successful, sustainable employment. The flip side of this is that the college’s local and regional economy benefits from the additional skills it is supplying, and again this is something that can be measured, either as a whole, or in terms of impact on specific sectors.
3. Proving return on investment to funders
Colleges are of course aware of how much funding they receive on an annual basis, but what about the tax receipts that come back from learners as they enter and move through the local labour market Tracking and measuring this return — which can be done — is a great way of demonstrating return on investment to the public purse that comes from the training and upskilling delivered by colleges, and therefore of bidding for future funding.
4. Intent and relevance of provision to local economic need
Many FE colleges have gone through significant change over recent years, whether that be through merger or other events. Despite that, all colleges have an ongoing focus on strategic curriculum planning and outreach to industry. But how closely is that aligned to the actual needs of the local economy and labour force? Tracking and analysing how college provision has changed over recent years in comparison to industry composition across the local economy is yet another compelling way for colleges to evidence how intent translates to ultimate success.
5. Societal impacts
As well as being big local employers, and helping students in their employment prospects, colleges can also be huge forces for good in improving local communities. Some of these social impacts can be captured and measured, for instance how the increased levels of education that a college brings equate to better health and well-being, lower crime and lower benefit claims.
The economic and social impacts of your college
In making these calculations, there are of course always counterfactuals that must be accounted for. Put simply, it is not the case that 100% of what a college does will lead to (for example) 100% employment and 100% positive economic impact, and there will always be alternative outcomes that must be recognised. Nevertheless, from our experience of conducting more than 2,000 Economic Impact Studies, both in the UK and across the globe, even when we take these counterfactuals into account. The impact that most colleges have on their local and regional economy is usually extremely significant – often far greater than the senior management anticipated!
At a time when you may well be spending a lot of time thinking about and talking about demonstrating your college’s positive intent and impact, why not measure it? I’m willing to guess that the economic and social impacts that your college brings to its students and local economy are probably even more significant than you think.
Contact us now to find out how we can help you measure the impact of your institution.