As the Further Education sector goes through its latest raft of changes, are there any lessons to be taken from previous waves of change when it comes to establishing a best-practice MIS function that support providers in achieving their objectives? And what scope for an MIS Highway Code?
Lessons learned or opportunities missed?
Whilst it is often accepted that change is the only certainty in our sector it strikes me that the results of the area review may be the biggest impact since incorporation in 1992/93. Although over 20 years ago, I clearly recall the change initiatives undertaken within the college I worked at the time.
Finance, HR and Payroll were taken in-house from local authority servicing and an incredible amount of time was allocated to ensuring systems were selected and implemented, processes were in-place and compliance with regulations was established. However, there was little time and resource devoted to similar activities around MIS. Other than focussing on ensuring we were able to do the first ISR (individualised student record) return, it was business as usual.
I think the FEFC (the FE funding body established as part of incorporation) and the sector missed a real opportunity to establish a "blueprint" for MIS or at least setting some minimum standard guidance on what was expected from MIS - what functions should it perform, what would be good practice and how it could measure its performance.
The contrast between MIS and Finance struck me as being a prime example of what was missed. Finance processes, systems and functions are pretty well understood and have been in-place for many years. We were able to set-up a Finance Department very quickly because it’s known that you need a Sales Ledger clerk or a management accountant for example and we also know what skills and qualifications they should have. Operating procedures and methods are generally well accepted and in addition we could learn a lot from the incorporation of the polytechnics in 1988. In MIS it wasn’t clear what was needed; I had the same size team as pre-incorporation and it wasn’t clear if I could learn anything from the HE sector at all; after all they did something completely different didn’t they?
Sustained success resting on the shoulders of the few?
Although my main role over the last 20 years has been in the implementation of MIS systems I have regularly been asked to "review" college MIS systems and departments, a direct result of the lack of attention to MIS during incorporation. Success in MIS has been touch and go; some colleges developed a great MIS service, others languished, and others failed completely, often with very dramatic results. Unfortunately, colleges that had great MIS departments and were held up as pinnacles of good practice (and I visited some to learn) soon went to pot after key personnel left (and I visited again to help them).
A sector blue-print for MIS
If you have been through, or are about to start, an area review I am sure you will have considered the possible outcomes. The question then is how do the potential recommendations get successfully implemented and how do we ensure a quality MIS service is established within the organisation.
FE Week recently reported that BIS have announced restructuring grants of between £50,000 and £100,000 and a portion of this must be applied to MIS if we are not to miss the opportunity for a sector blueprint for our MIS services.
My most recent work at Tribal has been in the development of an "MIS Highway Code" that sets out for colleges and other learning providers how to establish an MIS based on good practice, standards and processes. An MIS that supports the provider in achieving its objectives of delivering good outcomes for learners and supports the stability of the provider is now needed more than ever before.
The sector is changing, again, and it’s now we need to take this opportunity to finally establish MIS as a high quality service that supports its stakeholders in a consistent, effective and efficient way. Use the BIS money wisely and invest it in something that will make lasting change.
Head of Vocational Learning Implementation