Dear Santa… a letter with love from Milton Keynes College

Mon 15 Dec 2014

Blog by Dr Julie Mills - Principal, Milton Keynes College.

Dear Santa,

My Christmas list this year is simple. (My College Christmas list that is, my home list is a whole different story)

For the College, I ask three things, and three things only, all designed to help with the productivity gap between the UK and its competitors.  It takes more of us to create and build stuff in the same time as it takes them.  The only way that gap can be closed is by improving our skills training.  This is itself the only effective means to cut the deficit as more people in better jobs produce a higher tax take and reduced reliance on benefits.

Present One.  To be able to keep doing what we’re already doing.    From the point-of-view of Milton Keynes College I firmly believe we’re going in the right direction.  The standard of teaching and learning is demonstrably improving.  Surveys show higher levels of satisfaction from students and businesses.  Among the latter group 85% of business stakeholders say they’re highly satisfied with our performance.  At a recent event people from a hundred and twenty companies came along to see what we were doing and what we could do for them.   We’re creating a real buzz among employers and we want more of that, please.

Present Two.  More control over our own destiny.  Devolving power away from London and more specifically, Westminster, is fast becoming the hottest of hot political topics.   Santa, FE Colleges need more autonomy to design the right skills system for their area.  Targets and methods of assessment are set nationally but is it realistic to think that what is good for Milton Keynes is the same as that which would benefit Motherwell or New Malden?  Local problems demand local solutions.  It is absolutely right that the College is held to account and should indeed be judged on outcomes, destinations and earnings, but judged by whom?  Not just for Christmas, but for life, there should be a form of local board comprising perhaps business people, students, educationalists, SEMLEP, the council and other stakeholders who understand the city’s economy and its needs.  The College should be genuinely accountable to such a body which could impose sanctions and offer incentives relating to performance.  It’s worth pointing out that Britain’s struggle to improve skills training has seen around forty government reorganisations of the sector since the war.  Over that same period the system in Germany has been changed once with overwhelming success.  That structure was of course imposed as part of reconstruction, based on ideas from (honestly) Britain and America. 

Third Present.  More business engagement.  Talking to people is a remarkably effective way of finding out what they have to offer, and we want a whole lot more conversations with companies.  Currently there is a market failure in that the skills training provided by and for UK plc is not up to standard. In this instance, the supply side, ie education, is getting the blame for not training the right people in the right things.  However, unless we have a process in place whereby business can actually explain precisely what its needs are the search for improvement is at best a guessing game.  Because businesses are sceptical about what FE has to offer managers are reluctant to invest in training.  With less money to spend, training standards can decline, reinforcing this prejudice.  We are fortunate that in Milton Keynes we already have some wonderful collaborative success stories involving companies of all ages, shapes and sizes.  We host the Mirus IT Academy, the Design House, The Graduate Salon and the Launch Pad and do some excellent work in hospitality with the Spirit Group.  We have wonderful partnerships with other vested interests including the council, SEMLEP and Invest MK, all of which really do see what the College has to offer, and it is partly thanks to them we have joint projects with big names like Ocado and Home Retail Group.  With help from these organisations’ we can form credible relationships with business whereby companies know if they spend x amount of money with us they will benefit from having employees who understand their needs and have the necessary skills to fulfil them. 

Finally, Santa, could you please ensure that all our staff and students, our business and public sector partners and all the people who work with us have a wonderful, restful Christmas and receive all the things for which they have asked you.  After that, if you could just sort out a bit of peace on Earth and goodwill to all your work here will be done for another year.  Oh, and if you have any training requirements for any of your little helpers.. well, you know where to come.
Warmest best wishes & love to Rudolph  from Dr Julie Mills (you’ll find my name on the ‘good list’…..).

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