November 5, 2019
Starting in 2007, Newcastle College initiated a series of mergers and partnerships with other colleges and FE providers across the UK. Today, NCG is one of the largest education and training providers in the country, with a turnover in excess of £155 million.
Having overall responsibility for the sevenstrong group of colleges is Liz Bromley, NCG’s new chief executive officer. Liz heads up the leadership team after a long and varied career in the education sector, with plans to improve the teaching and learning experience and ensure that each of the group’s colleges is pulling in the same direction.
Liz had what she describes as a late start to her career after spending much of her early years looking after her four children. Her first step into the education sector was with Milton Keynes College, where she was in charge of managing the information services department.
She then went onto the Open University (OU) where she spent much of the next ten years in a variety of roles, seeing huge changes in the way the OU did things.
The advent of the internet and subsequently the widespread availability of computers that were small enough to be carried in your pocket revolutionised and widened access to the OU, which prior to digital transformation had adapted an early-morning-books-in-the-post model of education provision.
“It completely changed the OU and it adapted its business model accordingly”, Liz says. After the OU, Liz moved onto the University of Salford, where she designed and led higher education’s first integrated student support services bringing student support, housing, sport and leisure under one roof.
Liz then took on the role of registrar, which she says is more like a chief operating officer, looking after professional services, finance, HR and estates, as well as Student Support Services, at Goldsmiths University of London.
Before joining NCG, she was deputy vicechancellor at the University of Central Lancashire.
Looking back over her career, Liz reflects: “I’ve bounced between professional support services and academic leadership for 20 years and I’ve finally bounced out of higher education and back into further education.”
One of Liz’s key responsibilities moving forward with NCG is to coordinate and deliver the group’s strategy for 2020 to 2030.
“Our mission is to enable social mobility and economic prosperity through exceptional education and our vision is to be the UK’s leading college group, recognised for our local impact, national influence and our reach”, Liz explains.
In order to deliver that strategy, Liz will have to draw on the experience and ability of the Executive Group, which includes all of the College Principals, to ensure that they collaborate, communicate and innovate effectively.
Having a collective of seven colleges with different communities and economies around them is one of the NCG’s greatest strengths, but also one of its challenges.
Liz says: “NCG as a group can learn from each other to see how they overcome challenges, create new curricula, use technology differently and how we can prepare students to be really ambitious, really employable and come out of FE feeling like they’re either ready for higher education or ready for the world of work.”
The obvious challenge of leading a group strategy with colleges spread across the UK is relating what’s happening in Lewisham to what’s happening in Newcastle. Liz spends much of her time on video conference calls with the other college leaders to try and close the gap between each of their lived experiences.
She’s also established a Principals’ curriculum group where each of the seven Principals is able to play a significant role in what courses are run, or not, and how to plan for the students of the future.
“That’s one way of sharing the responsibility and the vision”, she says.
On the challenges facing the FE sector more generally, Liz adds: “I think the political uncertainty is really unhelpful. A few months ago, we were being told of £4 billion coming into FE. We knew that Philip Augar had written a report to propose shifting funding from HE to FE substantially and since then, I think there’s been a bit of a distraction around Brexit.”
Following that deliberate understatement, Liz also highlighted the Government’s recent international education strategy, which sets out a clear desire to turn UK schools, FE, HE and learning technology into an international education product, attracting students from all over the world.
Of course, British universities are already well-established in this regard, with international departments and teams that can go and take their message to foreign markets.
“If UK FE is going to be an international asset”, says Liz, “what support are we going to get to do it?”
Educational institutions like NCG are very good at identifying pathways to academic development, with around 50 per cent of students in FE progressing to HE every year. An area that’s been getting more attention recently is preparing students for the workplace after college, either with apprenticeships or with vocational and technical qualifications.
In the North East, NCG is able to offer students a range of options, whether they wish to study A-Levels at Newcastle College Sixth Form or a vocational course or apprenticeship at Newcastle College. All students are also able to progress to degree level study at Newcastle College University Centre.
For Liz, the key is to ensure that curricula are shaped by employers’ needs, something which Newcastle College centres its provision around, aligning itself to the priorities set out in the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Strategic Economic Plan. FE colleges play a major role in the local economy, not just through providing the future workforce with the skills we need, but also by having a civic commitment and being absolutely connected to the community. This is something Liz is very passionate about.
“FE should have a much stronger spotlight on it”, she says. “It’s been in the shadow of HE for far too long. Funding has gone to HE and not FE for the last ten years consistently and actually we’re looking at a picture where people need basic skills, vocational and technical skills, just as much as they need degrees.”
– Advertising feature –