Efficiency and Effectiveness in Higher Education

1. Introduction

Higher education has seen increasing pressure on funding since the Gershon Report in 2004. This has been accelerated by the new, more market-focused environment created by the current government. Responding to the new funding environment has become a key priority for all higher education establishments, something highlighted in the recommendations of the 2011 Diamond Report. These recommendations state that the way forward is through the adoption of LEAN, increasing and improving collaborative arrangements and putting the effective flow of information at the heart of transitional arrangements. This paper provides an overview of the key concepts that underpin the recommendations within the Diamond Report.

2. Integrated Improvement & LEAN

LEAN is a concept with a long-pedigree. Many people associate it with the transformation of the automotive manufacturer Toyota over the last 50 years but its history extends much further back in time. The concepts that we now associate with LEAN, such as Value Stream Analysis, Standard Working, Flow, Pull and Continuous Improvement can be found in use in the private sector since the 14th Century where they were used by the Venice Arsenal to produce warships in as little as an hour. It later found use in further military applications such as reducing the time taken for British warships to fire broadsides and the inter-changeability of parts used in weapons by the French and Americans.

Over the last 20 years LEAN concepts have taken hold in the public sector and is at the heart of the transformation of many central and local government organisations, healthcare and the armed forces. The adoption of LEAN requires organisations to create defined and effective processes, share knowledge and create a strategy for improvement. LEAN also drives the need for collaborative projects between departments and across entire organisations.

Creating effective processes, delivering efficiency and driving up the value realised within higher education will be achieved through this integrated approach to improvement.

In this article we will outline the key aspects of LEAN and Collaborative Working that will enable higher education organisations to respond to the recommendations within the Diamond Report and realise significant efficiencies.

3. A Strategic Approach to Improvement

The Diamond Report recommends the development of a long-term vision for the organisation and improve the access to management data about day to day performance. Coupled with these two points is the need to consider a strategic approach to the introduction of LEAN and the actions required to deliver a strategic approach to improvement are detailed in the following sections.

  • Create an integrated improvement plan

The creation of a long-term vision and the implementation plan required to support the introduction will be key to realise the larger benefits available to the higher education sector. One approach available to higher education organisations will be the creation of a strategic plan that provides an overview of the vision, objectives and strategic tasks required to deliver the improvements required, as well as avoiding the use of LEAN just being seen as ‘something else to do’.

  • Develop your management dashboard

The need for better management information was highlighted in the Diamond Report. The creation of an organisational dashboard that provides ‘at a glance’ performance data will provide leaders at all levels with the required information to enable them to plan improvements and track the changes achieved.

  • Develop an ‘improve every day’ culture

The third arm of a strategic approach to improvement is to foster a culture that supports continuous daily improvements. Within LEAN this is referred to as ‘Managing for Daily Improvement’ and we will review this later in this paper. However, at a strategic level there is a need to define the values and behaviours that will create a culture that supports an ‘improve every day’ culture. There is also a need to establish the management and communication processes and develop systems to support continuous improvement.

4. Building your knowledge base

Whilst there may be a need to utilise external support during the early stages of a LEAN implementation, the objective should always be to bring the expertise in house and to develop your own team to enable them to lead your LEAN activities.

Building your knowledge base is concerned with creating an organisation capable of self-sustaining LEAN and consists of a number of activities that we will discuss below.

  • Creating a cadre of expertise

Your cadre of expertise might need to include a lead body, such as a LEAN Team, who are responsible for training others and initiating major projects. These are your ‘Black Belts’, ‘Senseis’ or whatever else you choose to call them. Other people, called Practitioners, will normally have LEAN as a topic to do alongside their day jobs. Widespread communication of LEAN principles will support the ‘improve every day’ culture and ensure that the implementation of specific improvement projects can be achieved.

  • Creating an improvement knowledge bank

You will need to collate lots of improvement information including information on LEAN tools, case studies, processes, guides, checklists and operating procedures. There is a need to create and maintain a repository for this information and provide a place for people to access best practice guidance, share experiences and develop new processes.

  • Best practice sharing

Wherever possible you should share useful articles with your colleagues, take advantage of visits to see other organisations participating in LEAN and attend conferences to hear the experiences from a wide range of people. In addition, there will be an opportunity for every member of your team to contribute to the development of best practice within your organisation through the sharing of ideas and experiences.

5. Delivering LEAN successfully

Of course, the whole purpose of having an improvement strategy and adopting LEAN is to deliver improved performance. Delivering LEAN successfully means husbanding your resources, making the best use of your team, focusing on delivery and then following up after you have made changes. Some of the issues that will ensure you deliver LEAN successfully are covered in the following sections.

  • Find a LEAN partner

LEAN concepts can appear to be simple, but the implementation of them is significantly harder. You should seek out a LEAN partner who can provide the practical guidance, support and training required to enable you to become self-sufficient in LEAN.

  • Implement pilot projects quickly, and then learn from them

Part of the focus of creating an improvement strategy will be to identify some pilot projects that can be used to create pathfinders for the organisation and a template for further, larger and even more beneficial projects. The initial projects need to meet four criteria;

1. Be capable of providing a good return on investment

2. Be aligned with the objectives of the organisation

3. Be capable of realising benefits within a limited period

4. Have the support of local management staff

  • Managing for Daily Improvement

As already mentioned, to help create an ‘improve every day’ culture relies on the LEAN concept of Managing for Daily Improvement (MDI). MDI supports the embedding of changes following your ‘big ticket’ projects as well as helping to engage staff in the identification, and improvement, of processes day to day.

MDI relies on four main concepts;

  • Visual and virtual ‘Information Centres’ containing details of performance, projects and other team related information.
  • MBWA (Management By Walking About) and get your leaders at all levels to show an active interest in the challenges faced by front-line staff.
  • Holding regular team meetings to discuss performance, issues and objectives.
  • Creating a process to enable people to log issues and concerns and have them dealt with on a regular basis.

6. Robust processes are more important than tools

It is more important to the overall success of improvement within higher education to have a robust process than it is to worry about the individual ‘tools’. Scoping, Value Stream Mapping, Rapid Improvement Events and Managing for Daily Improvement are the key to a LEAN process, whilst Transformation Maps and Leader Standard Work are the keys to the strategic aspects to improvement.

7. Working collaboratively

The Diamond Report is also extremely positive about the need for enhanced collaborative working in higher education.

Collaborative working means more than one organisation (or department) working together to realise benefits for all parties. It recognises that for successful collaborations there must be some form of win-win for everyone involved.

The reluctance felt by organisations in working collaboratively often comes about because they have not considered such things as the ‘fixed points’ (things that cannot change), mutual objectives, the collaborative processes and how information will be shared and how disputes will be managed.

Collaborative working is essential to the successful adoption of LEAN and a structure is provided in the form of BS11000, the Collaborative Working standard.

Government’s Hold on Higher Education – How Rational and/or Irrational?

The area of higher education is remarkably vast, having a variety of constituents, less or more contributive in nature. Also, like every other part of the social structure, good and bad lie in equilibrium there. Since corruption has radically made it to every sector of our society, there remain all the chances for a sensitive area like education to get affected, no exception.

College managements (private ones, especially) are too big bodies to get stormed away in the fury of corruption. In fact, they need to move with the flow and become a part of corruption in one way or the other. Every now and then, however, the delicate air of the area of higher education can be seen turning out to be insecure for students. Pity!

There is nothing complex in understanding that the weaker unit is always dominated in every social relationship, which students here in this case are. If anything adverse has to happen because of whatever irrational corruption carries along, that will happen to students. Not everyone thinks such thinking is thoughtful, though.

Where the idea of some legal body’s control over higher education institutes comes is the intellectual section of our society. Well educated intellectual people actually care for students, their future and career. They suggest that if there is a body required to govern institutes imparting higher education, it should be government itself. This they believe is the best way to make the control as pure and authentic as it ultimately can be.

Unlike that, those who deny this concept, strongly argue that government’s control on higher education can’t necessarily be transparent and corruption-free. This is exactly when a rich-in-contradiction narrative (always varying from person to person, obviously) of why there should or/and shouldn’t be some decree system to control higher education in India can be felt flowing around.

Is Government’s Control Actually Required?

In December 2010, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) issued its notification with a new set of rules for B-schools. It included instructions to finish MBA entrance exams such as XAT, ATMA and MICAT. It also stated that only MAT and CAT or exams conducted by any state government will be main means of admission in B-schools.

Furthermore, the circular implemented fee related regulations wherein B-schools were denied right to set fee according to their own structure. Also, because of the changes that were introduced, now higher education institutes need to admit students only through a state government controlled process. This is how government has managed to regulate higher education institutes. Though any policy implemented by government can’t be challenged, still common man willing to react on such rules and regulations (to prove them right or wrong in this way?) can’t be ignored. Everything governments do, after all, is for common man.

Mass Reaction – Consensus or Disagreement?

To a reasonable extent, having a regulatory body comprising of an excellent regulatory mechanism to tame higher education institutes is essential. Imparting education to young minds, future pillars of a country, after all, is a task full of responsibility. Then anybody opening up an institute in a residence-like accommodation doesn’t make sense. The worse, they charge enormous fees and provide students with almost negligible facilities and education in this way becomes more of a profit-making thing.

As suggests our original education policy, education can’t be for profit and should be for all, irrespective of which class or caste one belongs to. To make this actually happen, we need a regulatory mechanism in place. Also, this is only through government’s control that we can put a check on low grade and unrecognized educational organizations.

At the same time though, imposing too much regulations is like challenging liberalization. We need to keep in mind that it was economic liberalization which helped India emerge as the fastest growing economy in the world. We can’t, again, set excess of rules and regulations for higher education institutes as they promote innovation. Generally, we don’t see government schools and colleges coming up with new curricula that lead to innovation among students. And when private institutes of higher education want to design and implement new course structure, we deny it in order to defend the rules prevailing for long back. This can’t be called fair, no.

All in all, and for the most part, there is a common belief among us that governments should concentrate on tightening the reins of unrecognized institutes making back-door entries. And if our government, instead, interferes in how established and recognized centres of higher education function, it is completely unfair. Then why do it when nothing worthwhile is going to come out of it?

Education Sector: Some Practical Suggestions for Interior Design

Approaching interior design for the education sector demands a careful approach. Whereas in your own home you can let your taste guide your way and your budget set your limits, buying for a room you will not use presents very different considerations. This article offers a brief look at what you need to consider when buying for interiors in a residential education setting.

The first casualty of buying interiors that others are to live in is your own taste. When choosing the right look you need to jettison your taste, or at least as much as you can. Consider the age-group of the residents and how much time they will spend in the accommodation. Hotel room design is a good starting point, as although this will be the resident’s home for a while it still retains the generic needs of a hotel room, in that the main aim is to be as neutral as possible. You cannot possibly cater to all tastes so it is better to at least offend as few as possible. If you have a child of the same age-group or a member of your wider family that is a student then ask them to take a look at some ideas of fabrics and colours to see what they like, or failing that find out what they really dislike. There are specialist companies that supply both the hotel industry and the education sector and these websites can be not only a good starting point but a cost-effective source for your needs.

There are strict fire regulations around what is called ‘sleeping accommodation’ when it is provided as a service. Make sure you have read the current regulations and follow the rules on fire-retardant bedding, curtains and furniture. Again, a reputable company that is set up to supply to the hotel or education sector will have all products clearly marked for their fire-retardant qualities.

The key phrase here is ‘hard-wearing’. Children and young adults have rarely ever bought their own bedding or curtains and this means they will not respect its cost or its care. There is no point in putting your faith in rules, except the rule that you should plan for disrespect of the room you provide. Buy products that are hard-wearing and even if the initial cost is higher this will save money in the long-term.

Also, keep in mind that the rooms you will buy for are, in part, for studying. If it is a higher education setting then the room will be a primary location for the student’s reading and computer use. Colours, lighting and the placement of furniture should fit the function of a room where reading will be a daily activity. For a private boarding school environment little extras like black-out curtain linings can add something to the design of a room, demonstrating consideration for a child who might struggle to sleep away from home.

In the current economic times cost consideration is more important than ever. If you are fitting out a number of rooms then of course it is best to buy in bulk from one supplier. The more items you can source from one place the stronger you can negotiate on price. All rooms needn’t be the same, though, you can theme rooms by breaking them into three or four groups so that adjoining rooms are differently accented in colours and fabric patterns. Fire retardant fabrics can be expensive when bought from the household name shops, so again look to firms that understand the budget constraints of buying for the education sector.