A key role of TAFE (Technical and Further Education) providers is to contribute to the effective and efficient use of public funds for vocational education and training, but also to ensure access to and equity of vocational education and training for the communities they serve. Here we explore how benchmarking can be used as an effective tool to demonstrate how TAFE providers successfully achieve this.
Traditionally, benchmarking and analysis of educational performance has typically been around:
- Financial performance - such as, bottom line surplus, income diversity, revenue from international students etc., and
- Educational attainment - including student retention, course completion rates, attainment levels and participation rates,
And increasingly the need to demonstrate:
- Employer satisfaction, student experience and student destinations measures are forming part of the performance picture.
Critical measures of performance for education establishments are often less quantifiable in the vocational education sector. Furthermore, the review of the VET sector underlines why each TAFE’s contribution to the communities in which they operate also needs to be factored into their evaluation.
After all, the vocational education sector provides vital opportunities for different parts of the communities that providers serve by furthering skills and education. Not everyone engages with a set standard of education. Giving people learning opportunities in a different learning environment illustrates the civic obligation of TAFE, but at what cost? Yet the current approach to measuring the performance of providers often fails to factor this in, meaning the true contribution of TAFE education is potentially misrepresented.
When calculating the true value of TAFE education, we also need to consider the opportunity for surplus reinvestment; private VET training providers often have the benefit of being able to choose, perhaps, a much smaller selection of courses to deliver, according to the popularity and profitability of the offer in the location in which they operate. TAFE offerings, by comparison, are expected to be much broader and linked to the skills needs of both the regional and state economy.
The wide span of provision TAFE providers offer in remote or rural communities, where it is often prohibitively expensive for providers to operate, demonstrates its willingness to fulfil access and equity obligations Whilst the need to measure and understand financial performance, as well as educational attainment and student experience, is crucial for any provider, the interpretation of these performance results must be done so in the context of the vital social and welfare contributions which TAFE providers make. Only then can their true value be understood.
A like-for-like comparison of performance, whatever the TAFE structure
So, is measuring all VET providers against the same metrics possible? It’s inherently difficult to measure and compare holistically the performance of different organisations when their structures and purpose might differ from each other. Here at Tribal, we use a proven benchmarking methodology (whichever education sector we analyse). This has ensured that the outputs stand up to scrutiny; the inbuilt audit trail functionality of the approach delivers the required trust in the robustness of the analysis. Regardless of how established each TAFE is in terms of the structure of the organisation, its leadership teams, or its culture – Tribal’s approach is to focus on identifying the key functions of how each provider delivers the core business of teaching and learning, and support, to its students. We remove all the noise, and ‘rebuild’ each provider in-line with the benchmarking model. In doing so we achieve a true like-for-like comparison.
In the case of the VET sector, our benchmarking and analysis service can look specifically at the nuances of the TAFE sector, helping leaders to benchmark their performance within the context of their own organisations, the funding and policy environment and the expected civic contribution.
This process alone helps leaders inwardly analyse their investment in crucial core activities such as teaching, front-line student services, library, ICT services, corporate functions, marketing and business development, and facilities. Leaders can use benchmarking data as a management tool to forecast and set appropriate budgets, and inform strategic investment decisions. It can also provide powerful motivation for teams to measure the distance travelled, to help everyone focus on continuous improvement.
Demonstrating and benchmarking TAFEs true impact
Benchmarking is also a powerful process through which leaders can demonstrate to their funding and monitoring agencies the full impact of their activities, the funding required, and how much they invest in delivering services in regional areas as part of their civic duty. Objective data from external benchmarks are a useful way of quantifying the investment TAFE institutions make in delivering key activities and delivering the empirical evidence on which to lobby for funding and /or policy changes.
In New Zealand, for example, whole sector VET benchmarking enabled providers to use performance data to collaborate in order to evidence where changes in funding rates could support priority skills areas. In turn, this supported the development of a stronger pipeline of skilled workers aligned to the prevailing needs of the economy. We have also witnessed practical benefits gained from sharing instances of good practice between institutions, resulting in more efficient use of resources and improved student experiences.
You can probably tell from reading this blog that here at Tribal we believe that benchmarking can play a crucial role in supporting the continuous improvement of TAFE providers, and ultimately through the informed allocation of finite resources, in assisting student achievement. Accurate and consistent data through an objective third party ensures that everyone is compared like-for-like. It means that the debate between organisations can focus on the issues and trends revealed in the data – instead of wasting time questioning where the data has come from.
As a result, all parties trust the data, trust the process, and trust the benchmark. It’s why our Benchmarking team has such a strong track record internationally and can share examples of best practice ways of working witnessed in other vocational education sectors. In doing so it is likely to help each organisation move towards its improvement goals more efficiently and effectively. But even as an early adopter of benchmarking, the very process of a detailed look at your investment profile to determine effective use of resources, allied with the view of educational performance, will provide tangible initial performance gains.
If you would like to find out more about benchmarking for TAFEs, and how it can impact your organisation, click to watch our latest webinar.