3 ways colleges must change to support students in 2021

Alfie Payne offers three new year's resolutions for colleges that would ensure that provision is truly student-focused
2nd January 2020, 9:00am
Alfie Payne


3 ways colleges must change to support students in 2021

New Year's Resolutions For Colleges On Student Support

For most in education, starting in January doesn't call for massive changes to routine - that normally happens in the summer. But that's not always the case. For example, I'm starting a new course at a new college in January, while one of my friends will begin his engineering apprenticeship. I think one of the things the FE sector always does very well is adapt and support students in reaching their goals and ambitions, however they can.

Sadly, not all lecturers and colleges are always as open-minded as I think they could be. With that in mind, these are my three New Year's resolutions for the FE sector, to ensure it stays as student-centred and supportive as it can be.

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Keep an open mind 

I've written before about measuring success, and how teachers can help students to make sure that they get a more rounded educational experience beyond grades and exam results. But we need to continue educating ourselves about the variety of options available to young people outside of the standard model of GCSEs, A levels/BTEC, university and graduate training schemes. 

Let's make sure our expectations are up to date, too. A programme manager once told me that I would never earn more than £20,000 a year without going to university; we all know that's not true.

There is so much choice available to young people: there are A levels and BTECs, yes, but also T levels, high-quality apprenticeships, traineeships, and so much more. They all have the potential to lead to high-quality jobs, careers and success. We must not put someone down or think less of them because they haven't taken the route that, statistically, they may be best suited to.

I truly believe that every educator wants what is best for their students - let's not lose track of that in targets and funding quotas.

Support students outside of the classroom

I think it can be easy for lecturers and tutors to only think about their subject area, and making sure that students are as knowledgeable as possible in that area - which is, at first glance, their role. But students learn so much more at college than just their subject: exploring relationships, managing money, the world of work.

I know from my own experiences and from talking to friends that being aged between 16 and 19 is a really tough and tricky time. Heck, you probably remember it, too. Mentally, emotionally, physically - everything can be challenging. It can suck. Having a supportive network to fall back on, a student union, an extracurricular hobby, can make the world of difference. Having real-world colleague-style relationships, like adults, with whom you can work together to navigate the challenges of the world, is really helpful. 

Build on relationships with employers 

Right now, getting a job, and starting a career, can feel like an impossible task. There are record numbers of redundancies and recently-qualified-but-not-yet-experienced students are struggling to find jobs. And while it goes without saying that it's a desperately sad situation, colleges must continue to foster great relationships with local businesses to provide students with the opportunity to complete (remote) work-experience placements and to help businesses bounce-back from the devastation the last year has brought.  

On LinkedIn, I get so much from messaging execs and people in jobs I'd love to do. I ask them how they got there and what their advice is. Wouldn't it be great if we could see weekly masterclasses with industry leaders in college?

Unlike my personal New Year's resolutions of going to the gym, eating less cake and giving up drinking wine, you'll notice the resolutions I've outlined above are reasonable and realistic. 

That's because - as we know - the FE sector already does a lot of great things, and with the very imminent white paper, it's likely we'll be able to undergo a lot of change. Let's make sure that change is positive and with students at the centre.

Alfie Payne is a marketing student at a college in England


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