Colleges take a leaf out of enterprise culture book
The college also produces a student portfolio on disk under the name Trackerpack; the Which Way Now? computer package for adult returners; a similar package for the police force; and a more traditional organiser for colleges and schools called The Knowledge. That's in addition to its paper-based open and distance learning packages and the Pam and Tom adult literacy workbook and reading scheme.
World trading After just five years, Bilston College in Wolverhampton sells its publications not just in Britain but in Russia, Eastern Europe and now South Africa.
Two years ago, it self-published its first book, Community Need and Further Education. The book was produced in partnership with Education Now, an independent publishing co-operative set up by the college, about its pioneering work in community education.
Two more followed and three are in the pipeline. Deputy principal Frank Reeves believes they can't put a price on the marketing benefits. "We won't make a fortune but we raise awareness of the college's existence and of the staff who contribute.
"And we've learnt a great deal from it. Not just in terms of getting things published but also in staff development. It's a way of focusing the mind and setting out priorities and interests."
David Evans, director of open learning, agrees: "Courses are usually delivered and then disappear into thin air.
"We want to find ways to package the product like bottling water so it will be available in different formats, like desktop publishing and multi-media. "
Since September, they have established a product development centre, where Chris Parsons is manager. And she sees the publishing side developing. "Our research has shown there's a market for practical, easily obtainable and cheap materials, sometimes in quite small print runs, especially from overseas.
"All our work is unitised so people can mix and match. We do have a programme that can be delivered whole in college.
"But we also need the basics of negotiation which our community groups or partners overseas can use. So we start with the basic curriculum and then customise."
Wirral Metropolitan College works with three other colleges to circulate materials via its educational technology network METTNET, which provides access to information through CD-Roms.
In addition, course materials are being computerised, flexible-learning materials have been developed for small businesses, and language support in business French, German and Spanish, combining audio tapes, text and interactive video.
In the past two months, Lancaster and Morecambe College has sold Pounds 14,000-worth of materials. And it has only been marketing themselves as publishers for a year, Bill Storey, their flexible learning development officer, estimates one in five FE colleges in the UK has bought their materials. "It reflects a massive demand," he says. "We don't commission anything if we think other materials are available. So we're filling gaps. "
Those gaps were identified through a comprehensive consultation and mapping exercise two years ago. Now, 300 modules are available or in production on subjects ranging from job seeking skills and sports performance to health care and business law.
"Our flexible-learning materials are specifically designed to meet the needs of our students. We can produce as many copies as we require. We can update and amend them.
"There is the potential of conversion to more hi-tech formats using new technology. And the system is now in place so we can cover more topics when required."
Manchester Open Learning (MOL) is the largest department at Manchester College of Arts and Technology, with 100 staff and 1,000 publications to date. It's been publishing since 1987, designing and producing open-learning programmes for organisations like the Royal Mail, British Aerospace and the Abbey National, as well as for colleges.
It's now looking to develop its electronic publishing output. "Publishing is an integrated part of a courses delivery system by non-traditional means, " says David Wardell, MOL media development manager. "We can run fully-supported courses anywhere in the UK or Europe. If an organisation wants a particular subject, we would form a partnership with them to produce the course."
Serving students Publications at Bradford and Ilkley College fall into five categories, according to assistant principal Pat Williamson: "Esoteric works by staff which we publish and sell, academic work which arises from college work, like our study of women's role in college, student studies and open-learning materials. That's the money-making one. A number of departments also sell textbooks, sometimes under licence to other institutions."
The immediate benefit to students is the ready availability of individually-tailored course materials. "Otherwise we'd have to buy a whole range of textbooks and use one page from one and one from another. It's not profitable and we don't intend it to be. We want to give a better service to our students."