Colleges should outsource more of their central and administrative services to make savings, the head of the Government's education technology body said this week.
Using technology to deliver administrative and other services to colleges from a single central private or sector-owned source could save individual colleges thousands of pounds, according to Stephen Crowne, chief executive of Becta.
Speaking at Becta's Next Generation Learning conference in Birmingham on Tuesday, Mr Crowne said: "I know there are a few examples of FE colleges and providers working to share services, but formally there is very little evidence of shared services in FE.
"There appear to be opportunities here, and while there may be barriers to overcome, I would encourage you to explore these when there are potentially further savings to be achieved."
Mr Crowne told FE Focus: "We need to build up an evidence base of the benefits of shared services: it is no use asking people to buy something mysterious and unproven.
"There is no reason why the whole of a college's IT infrastructure and the services run on it could not be run by an outsourced supplier."
Colleges are increasingly using technology at an institutional level to make savings, Mr Crowne said. He cited the example of Brockenhurst College, which estimated savings of 127,000 from a 10,000 investment in technology.
However, as public funding declines, colleges may lack the capital to invest in new technology, according to Jane Williams, Becta's director of FE. "It may be that some colleges will not be able to replace ageing technology, but in these circumstances it is very important to do everything they can to get the maximum value out of what they have currently got," she said.
Julian Gravatt, assistant chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that the current financial position had focused minds on the benefits of shared services, although the appetite for savings cut both ways.
"Given the financial situation, providers will be even more critical of whether shared services are really providing them with the necessary savings," he said.
The Becta conference was preceded on Monday by the Next Generation Learning Awards (see box, above) which recognise outstanding practice in education and training organisations throughout the UK. Each winner gets 1,000, to be spent on ICT.
AND THE AWARD GOES TO .
Winners of the Next Generation Learning Awards
- North Hertfordshire College - General FE (England) Award
- Charnwood Training Group - Work-based Learning Award
- Middlesborough Council Community Learning - Adult and Community Learning Award
- Croydon Adult Learning and Training - Furthering My Learning Award
- National Star College - Independent Specialist College
- Coleg Menai and South Eastern Regional College - General FE Devolved Administrations
- Xaverian Sixth Form College - Sixth Form College Award
- Riverside Centre - Voluntary Sector Award
- Every Step Ltd - Offender Learning Award
And those highly commended
- Birmingham Citizens Advice and Ealing, Hammersmith amp; West London College - Furthering My Learning
- Aston Pride NDC - Adult and Community Learning
- Birmingham Metropolitan College and Gloucestershire College - Special Recognition.