Compared to their private counterparts, TAFEs stack up very differently – but what if we level the playing field? What if we measure not only inputs and outputs, but also outcomes? And how do we do that?
Traditionally, benchmarking and analysis of performance has typically been around:
- Financial performance – such as, bottom line surplus, income diversity, revenue from international students etc., and
- Educational attainment – including student retention, course completion rates, and participation rates, and increasingly:
- Employer satisfaction, student satisfaction and student destinations measures are forming part of the performance picture.
These critical measures for higher education establishments are often less quantifiable in the vocational FE sector – even for private training providers. Furthermore, the recent review of the VET sector underlines why each TAFEs contribution to the communities in which they operate also needs to be factored into their evaluation.
After all, the vocational education sector provides vital opportunities for different parts of the communities that providers serve by furthering skills and education. Not everyone engages with a set standard of education. Giving people another opportunity in a different learning environment is both a civic obligation and a vital way to provide skilled people into Australia’s workforce via trades and services. TAFE education is a second chance, rather than a second choice option. Yet the current approach to measuring the performance of colleges fails to factor this in, meaning the true value of TAFE education is currently misrepresented.
When calculating the true value (and therefore any performance improvement in the VET sector) of TAFE education, we also need to consider the opportunity for profitability. Private VET training providers often have the benefit of being able to choose 1-4 courses to deliver, according to the popularity and profitability of the offer in the location in which they operate. TAFEs’ offerings, by comparison, are typically much broader and linked to the skills that the economy really needs.
Location is a further point of difference, with TAFEs fulfilling the Government’s obligation to offer provision in remote or rural communities where it is often prohibitively expensive for private training providers to operate. So focussing on the profit margin of TAFEs and not their vital social and welfare contributions can potentially skew the performance picture and misrepresents their value.
Therefore, measuring all VET providers against the same standards proves problematic. It’s inherently difficult to measure and compare holistically the performance of different organisations when their structures and purpose differ so radically. Which is why here at Tribal we use a highly granular benchmarking model (wherever we are in the world) – so that the resulting comparison stands up to scrutiny; the inbuilt audit trail functionality delivering the required trust in the robustness of the analysis. Regardless of how established each TAFE is in terms of the structure of the organisation, its leadership teams or its culture – Tribal’s approach is to strip it back to component parts, removing all the noise, and rebuilding each college to the benchmarking model – so you get a like for like comparison.
In the case of the VET sector, our benchmarking and analysis service looks specifically at the nuances of the TAFE model, helping leaders to benchmark their performance within the context of their civic contribution.
This process alone helps leaders inwardly analyse their investment in crucial core activities such as teaching, front line student services, library, ICT services, corporate functions, marketing and business development, and facilities. Leaders can use benchmarking data as a management tool to inform appropriate forecast and budget setting and inform strategic investment decisions. It can also provide powerful motivation for teams if you measure the distance travelled towards targets, to help everyone focus on improvement.
Benchmarking is also a powerful process through which leaders can demonstrate to their funding and monitoring agencies the full impact of their activities, the funding required, and how much they’d need to invest if they wanted to deliver further services in regional areas as part of their civic duty. So whilst this analysis will not demonstrate value in the same way that, for example, a full economic impact assessment might - objective data from external benchmarks are a useful way of quantifying TAFE costs and delivering the evidence on which to lobby for funding and/or policy changes.
In New Zealand, for example, whole sector VET benchmarking enabled providers to use performance data to collaborate in order to evidence base where changes in funding rates could support priority skills areas such as Engineering. In turn this contributed to the development of a stronger pipeline of skilled workers aligned to the current economic conditions.
In Australia, the potential to influence funding and policy is also strong because of TAFEs’ appetite and willingness to collaborate. By ‘normalising’ the data from each organisation, true comparisons can be drawn, serving to strengthen decentralised models. Opening up the analysis of institutions will, therefore, ensure collaboration becomes more informed – both in terms of financial and attainment standards, but perhaps most importantly in terms of civic contribution.
You can probably tell from reading this blog that here at Tribal, we believe that benchmarking plays a crucial role in facilitating and supporting collaboration. When it comes to the ‘nitty gritty’ of collaboration, accurate and consistent data acts as an objective third party, ensuring that everyone is comparing like with like. It means that debate between collaborators can focus on the issues and trends revealed in the data – instead of wasting time questioning where the data is from. As a result, all parties trust the data, trust the process, and trust the benchmark. It’s why our Benchmarking team has such a strong track record internationally in facilitating collaboration between groups of institutions united by common issues – such as how to demonstrate the true value of civic contribution.
Sharing information, best practice ways of working, and even services (such as telecoms) across the whole sector is likely to prove financially beneficial to every collaborator – and help each organisation move towards its improvement goals more efficiently and effectively. But even as an early adopter of the approach, the inward process of the benchmarking analysis has benefits as you take a detailed look at your spend to identify savings. It also means that you can help shape what is measured across the sector as benchmarking becomes more widely adopted.
If you’re keen to benefit from this benchmarking process and improve your funding position by objectively demonstrating the effect of your entire operation (including your vital civic contribution) - join us on June 25th for a webinar dedicated to supporting TAFE leaders.