Outsourcing jobs to India has been common practice for British businesses looking to save cash. But the actions of City College Norwich as it followed suit have raised serious concerns about money going to waste.
The college took the unusual step of outsourcing the processing of student application forms - a task previously carried out in Norwich - after winning some extra funding from the FE Efficiency and Innovation Fund.
QuScient, a private firm and major player in the higher education market in the US, won the contract after approaching the college, but it appears that the pilot scheme has not been going according to plan. "We understand that the project hasn't gone well at all," a college source told TES. "The college has actually had to send out a member of staff to Chennai (in Tamil Nadu, India) in recent days to try and sort it out."
A college report admits that "the applications processing element had its teething problems", but insists that the issues have now been resolved. The college said that it has not yet decided whether the work in India will continue once the three-month, pound;8,800 pilot has finished.
The college insists that no jobs will be lost as a result of the project but, in a document seen by TES, deputy principal Geoff Sorrell added: "However, I have also made it clear that I cannot guarantee there will not be redundancies for other reasons."
Jon Richards, national secretary for education at public service union Unison, which represents support staff at the college, said it was "outrageous" that public funds should be invested in a way that could cause job losses.
"We are clear that this practice is a direct result of the government's deregulation agenda," he said. "Colleges are being encouraged to act like the chief executives of privatised utilities rather than the custodians of community education."
Jonathan Dunning, Unison's Norfolk branch secretary, said that the union was concerned about jobs that should be available to local people being "offshored".
"We are struggling to see why City College Norwich thinks that this is a private sector tactic worth copying," he said. "We have received assurances from the college that this is a short-term project, but even so it seems contradictory that, while providing education to equip young people for the job market, they should do anything that lessens the job opportunities these young people may subsequently have."
The grant from the Skills Funding Agency, which administers the fund, has also been used to pay QuScient for the creation of "pro-retention" software to track the progress of students during and after their time at the college. This scheme costs an initial pound;35,000 and will incur running costs of pound;138,000 over the next five years.
A spokesperson for City College Norwich insisted that, as a publicly funded institution, it has "a professional duty to constantly ensure the effective use of those funds, maximising value for money". He said that a decision on whether to continue the outsourcing work will be made when the pilot ends next month.
"The college has stated clearly that there will be no staff redundancies as a result of reviewing its applications processing as we are seeking to add value to existing systems", the spokesperson added. "QuScient was chosen for this work because it is a reputable company that already works in the post-16 sector in the UK and the US, and has the relevant expertise."
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