How to bridge the gap between business and FE education
Robert Dagge, Managing Director at Dynistics, talks big data and how information management can help colleges save money and improve student retention
Posted by Charley Rogers | October 03, 2017 | Secondary
dynistics, big-data, business-intelligence, robert-dagge, newnham-college

While it has always been necessary for FE providers to collect, generate and disseminate marketing information, its effective use has never been so vital. After years of underfunding, colleges have been further hit by recent government spending cuts and many are facing closure. 

With colleges competing against each other for a smaller pool of students, due to the growth of academies and private sector providers, the access to and use of market intelligence has never been such a high priority. Yet whilst they may have more access to data than ever before, making sense of it can seem a mammoth task – and one which the timetable just doesn’t allow for. 

With most college data tied up in multiple systems, the process of pulling it all together is manual and laborious, using up time that could be better spent on more lucrative pursuits. This is where college-specific business intelligence (BI) tools can help.

Good quality data insights are essential in guiding a retention strategy, monitoring students’ progress, assessing course effectiveness, directing decisions and resource allocations, and BI provides an interactive real-time breakdown of all admissions and enrolment data.

With colleges competing against each other for a smaller pool of students, due to the growth of academies and private sector providers, the access to and use of market intelligence has never been such a high priority.

With under-subscribed courses and the associated lack of financial viability posing a real issue for colleges, BI can help colleges monitor how the number of applications compares with their target in real time, and adjust their marketing efforts to help redress the balance. Staff can monitor student numbers on different courses and identify available spaces, potentially bringing in thousands of pounds of extra funding. This helps colleges to stay competitive, set priorities in terms of local skills shortages, and maximise income from apprenticeships.

Similarly, geomapping enables a college’s admissions team to see, at a glance, which other colleges and universities it is up against. This enables the college to align its courses, marketing resource and investment to ‘fill the gaps’ and ensure the best possible take-up of places, delivering on demonstrated need, rather than predictions. 

By using BI tools to manage enrolment data, colleges can maintain a competitive edge at a time when private apprenticeship schemes are attracting more and more applicants. If FE colleges know exactly where they stand at any given moment, they are better placed to ensure they receive a steady flow of applicants despite the increased competition. 

Student retention is equally essential for running a financially successful college. Data visualisation provides an easy, innovative and practical way to help FE establishments refine and better manage their courses to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of teaching.

Data visualisation provides an easy, innovative and practical way to help FE establishments refine and better manage their courses to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of teaching.

By merging information about students, such as prior qualifications and educational progress, tutors can review their teaching subjects and methods accordingly. This might lead to developing new course models, integrating modules and ultimately improving student performance, satisfaction and retention. It also helps identify students who are disengaging at a much earlier stage, so tutors can intervene before the situation escalates, improving the likelihood of course completion.

Greater engagement with data and analytics offers many benefits for FE students. It can lead to adaptive learning, providing students with individually tailored tutoring and, arguably, greater success. Rather than one-size-fits-all, students can be directed to learning materials based on their previous interactions with, and understanding of, related content and tasks. The more a student interacts with the course material, the more the software adapts to the student’s learning strengths and weaknesses — modifying the teaching method accordingly. 

By delivering a streamlined interface that connects students with the functions used most frequently, data visualisation can deliver the key metrics for colleges and universities to pinpoint exactly where they need to focus their attention to put student progress, achievement and satisfaction first.

As the battle for students becomes greater, consistent and comparable data in real-time is increasingly essential to not only gain a competitive edge, but to deliver students greater personalisation along their learning journey. Colleges that embrace BI will find they make smarter decisions, more quickly, helping them to attract and retain students and, ultimately, remain viable. 

Colleges that embrace BI will find they make smarter decisions, more quickly, helping them to attract and retain students and, ultimately, remain viable. 

BI has helped bring data accuracy, availability and accountability to Newham College of Further Education, which has over 12,000 students and around 400 teaching staff.

Carlos Cubillo-Barsi, Vice Principal at Newham College, said: “In terms of our data management, we look for the three ‘A’s of data: accuracy, availability and accountability, and before the implementation of Dynistics’ Active Dashboards, while we did have data management systems in place, these didn’t link up or provide enough quality information. This meant we spent a lot of time and energy looking for data that wasn’t always easy to come by. It became apparent we needed something to work quickly, pulling all up-to-date data into one portal.”

The dashboards also improved student retention, funding and success rates. “With the availability of live data, we could monitor attendance and pinpoint at risk students, such as those with low attendance or receiving care. We developed a specific dashboard for these students to monitor them more closely.”

Crucially, financial health improved too. Over the last two years, the college has moved from the ‘adequate’ to ‘good’ financial health category. “That’s not entirely down to the dashboards, of course,” Cubillo-Barsi clarifies, “but they have certainly helped avoid any nasty end-of-year surprises. We use a dashboard to track staff utilisation, which in 2016/17 improved by seven per cent, equating to a saving of tens of thousands of pounds.” 

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