York 2015 Eddie Lazell

SROC 2015 from the point of view of a private provider

I have been to many SROCs in the past. But in 2015, for the first time, I attended SROC as an employee of a private educational provider.

These days I’m the Head of Insight & Reporting (don’t laugh) at GSM London, the institution formerly known as Greenwich School of Management, but retitled to take account of our new campus in Greenford. GSM London teaches a range of management and industry-based courses, predominantly at honours degree level. As for the feared question “How many students do you have?”, it’s about 8000 – large for a specialist institution, small for a university.

Our main distinguishing features are that we offer accelerated degrees, which can be completed in two years; we have June as well as October and February intakes; and our tuition fees are £6000 per annum, or £8000 for accelerated. Roughly half of our undergraduate students take a foundation year with us as part of their degree. We have three equal length semesters, with very little gap between them, every year (so strictly they should be called “trimesters”, but I’m not winning that battle). We do not have halls.

Student records and other aspects of our information architecture look very different from the public sector HEIs: the pressures and imperatives on GSM London have been different, so it has evolved into a rather different animal. We are only just entering much of the HE policy and reporting environment, but we have an extremely sharp and well-informed recruitment team, rather like institutions from the United States. (The acronym of SROC’s sister organisation, SACRAO, formalises the distinction between “College Registrars” and “Admissions Officers”; when I was lucky enough to attend SACRAO, I was struck by the sales and CRM skillset of the latter profession). We are also adjusting to an expansion of student numbers in recent years; various data-dependent processes are being scaled up and joined up, and the student record is coming into its own as a driver of communications, logistics planning, forecasting, quality and strategy. Data are being used to identify and solve practical, procedural problems. At some point, recent recruits to the Strategic Planning & Management Information team such as myself are also going to have to find time to make HESA returns – according to my calendar I have a brief free slot on the 14th of September…

So I was looking for a mixture of practical, procedural sessions and keeping an eye on the changing geography of the information landscape (© Andy Youell). The session on a Digital Strategy for Student Services was very topical for GSM London as we grapple simultaneously with the cultural and information aspects of making communications with students timely, slick, and joined up across service teams. Meanwhile, the session on mediation and conciliation training when handling complaints set me thinking about how staff in this area can feed back lessons from their unique view of an institution’s weaknesses: staff who handle complaints inhabit the low-likelihood but high-stakes end of risk management where statistics are of limited help. GSM London will be very interested if student entrepreneurship takes off as a measure of a university’s activity, but the session on this subject illustrated how far away we are from any consistent measurement.

While GSM London has longstanding experience of the SLC – and is closely interested in their continued “transformation” – the process of converging with the rest of the HE reporting framework is in relative infancy. Over the next few years we intend to gain degree-awarding powers and gradually head into the realms of HESA Student returns and full sector reporting requirements. However, I don’t mind admitting that the Alternative Provider return will be quite enough fun for this year.

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