Area Review discussions take a surprising turn at the Capita FHE National Conference 2016

By Victoria Wilson

In the stark light of the challenging area reviews, senior leaders and staff from the further and higher education sectors came together at this year’s Capita Further and Higher Education National Conference to discuss the key pressures and opportunities facing them in the months and years ahead.

The two-day conference provided a range of timely and compelling presentations and workshops, including how Capita secured lead position assisting the majority of Scottish colleges with their successful mergers. The strength and experience of Scottish customers and key team members from Capita gave the delegates from across the UK the opportunity to benefit from the knowledge gained at these Scottish institutions.

A number of roundtable discussions sparked lively debate, led by Ioan Morgan, former college principal and previous Chair of 157 Group, but the outcomes were not always predictable. With participants asked to share what they learned about successfully navigating their Area Reviews, the top piece of advice offered by Jason Quinn, Assistant Principal – Systems at New College Lanarkshire, was not to underestimate the impact of a merger on staff. 

Taking control

Throughout the conference, colleges at different stages of the area reviews process were given the chance to share their thoughts and experiences. 

Those institutions that were further along in the journey offered some critical advice to FE colleagues on managing the journey effectively. As thoughts were shared and ideas thrashed out, a few key themes emerged that were seen as the foundations of a successful outcome for students, staff, employers and the wider community. 

Here are just a few of the surprising findings and key themes that emerged during discussions:

  • Focus on clear and transparent communication – Consistent, engaged and regular communication was seen as vital for preparing staff for change, bringing everyone along in the process of change and ensuring that merging or federating institutions benefit from stakeholders who will champion their provision, every step of the way. 
  • Don’t get hung up on finances – Rather unexpectedly, the general consensus amongst college leaders was that the quality of provision must always be the driving force for change and not cost efficiencies.
  • Do your homework – Another unexpected finding amongst the delegates was their agreement that it was key for each institution to know the strengths and to ensure there was adequate evidence at their fingertips to embrace any scrutiny of their provision. 
  • Be the first choice for apprenticeships – All colleges agreed that the future FE landscape will involve apprenticeships as never before. Understandably, they were keen to capture their share of the apprenticeship market to help secure their college’s future.

The impact of change

The future of FE was a common feature across the conference, with a speech on how the political landscape of the country is affecting the FE sector from Nic Dakin MP, Shadow Minister for Schools and former Principal at John Leggott College. He also discussed how essential the roles of technology, information systems and digital communications are now and will continue to be in helping institutions to meet the needs of students and secure a college’s leading edge in the years ahead.

A practical look at bringing business systems together across multiple sites and institutions was the topic at the heart of Sharon Driver’s presentation as she took delegates through her experiences of managing the merging of three separate institutions to form Ayrshire College. 

The advice offered by presenters and contributors on managing significant change to systems and processes, while continuing to deliver business as usual, was received well and delegates returned to their institutions with a raft of new ideas as well as much food for thought.

Commenting  on the success of the conference, Capita’s Head of Further and Higher Education and Libraries Software, Karen Reece, said: "We were delighted to welcome so many of the sector’s senior leaders and staff to this event, which once again provided a great platform for innovation. I’m sure delegates have gone away with fresh ideas on how to meet the changing needs of their students, staff and the wider sector, and found the experiences of our Scottish partners immensely valuable.

"We have certainly achieved great impact as the main partner throughout the Scottish mergers, and we plan to do the same here in England to secure the future of many already successful institutions."

Interviews with the speakers

We interviewed key speakers at the conference to hear their thoughts on the key challenges facing the FE sector and asked them what those who have been through the merger process what their top tips are for a successful outcome.

To find out how Capita Further and Higher Education could help you manage the changes ahead, please contact or call 01285 647500. 


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