Commissioner: Ruskin College faces 'uncertain future'

The finances of Ruskin College in Oxford have seriously deteriorated, the further education commissioner has warned

Tes Reporter

College finances: The FE commissioner has warned that Ruskin College has an uncertain future

A college facing an “uncertain future” has been placed in supervised status by the further education commissioner.

In a report published today and dated July 2020, commissioner Richard Atkins says Ruskin College faces an uncertain future due to the serious deterioration of its finances over the past 18 months, which had been caused by a sharp decline in higher education enrolments and a substantial overclaiming of adult education and bursary funding.

“Volumes of on-site provision are now very low, and turnover has fallen despite a significant number of short courses that are delivered off-site. This low level of activity raises fundamental questions over the college’s prospects and its capacity to repay overclaimed funding. Future options are currently being assessed by an ESFA-appointed IP,” Mr Atkins says. 

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The report adds: “There have been significant changes in board membership and improvements in governance since 2018; however, during this visit, the FEC team received unsolicited letters from a number of individuals who are involved with the college, raising serious concerns about governance. The FEC team strongly recommends an independent review of governance.”

College finances: Ruskin College 'in supervised status'

It says the college should urgently finalise a realistic operational plan and budget for 2020-21 and update the 12-month cashflow forecast in line with these plans. The curriculum vision for the college should be updated to ensure that it reflects a viable model by October 2020. “In light of the current financial position, the college should be placed in supervised status,” says the commissioner.

In a letter to the chair, apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan said she accepted the commissioner’s recommendations.

Also today, the further education commissioner published his report on Richmond upon Thames Borough Council, dated July 2020, which was instructed to stop recruitment on to subcontracted provision following an "inadequate" Ofsted rating.

The commissioner says that while it is too early to assess the impact of recently introduced changes, it is clear that governors and senior leaders now appreciate the challenges and are clear about what needs to be done to move forward and work constructively with the various agencies.

He recommends that the council should demonstrate appropriate safeguarding and oversight arrangements for its sub-contracted provision, create a clear line of accountability at governance level for both adult and apprenticeship provision, and ensure that sub-contracting agreements are in place for the start of the 2020-2021 academic year.

“The council should develop mechanisms to identify and share best practice in apprenticeship and ACL provision across the service by December 2020.”

A spokesperson for Ruskin College said the college had "faced very significant financial challenges over recent years, in common with many in the sector, and changes in funding rules, together with the challenges of Covid-19, have not eased the situation".

"We are working alongside the further education commissioner who regulates colleges, and the Education Skills Funding Agency which provides our funding, to provide security and stability for the college through a ‘structure and prospects appraisal’ going forward. The college continues to prioritise students and resource learning, teaching and assessment. It is business as usual and we continue to support all our students as they successfully complete their studies. We will preserve the Ruskin ethos and offer going forward, whether in partnership with another institution or as a fully independent college.

"We have an exemplary record of widening participation and a long history of supporting our students to achieve life-changing results through education. Despite the challenges of lockdown, this work has continued and we were able to deliver more excellent results this year."

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