Cost Saving in FE: Highbury College

Cost saving in FE is a core aim for the majority of FE institutions across the UK. With this in mind, a large and very successful Further Education College uses its Microsoft Campus Agreement to the full in its quest for efficiency and doing more with less. By doing so it is able to provide proven quality services for staff and students in a highly cost effective way.

Highbury College is a large Further Education College with 11,000 students on five sites in and around the City of Portsmouth. The latest Ofsted report (20 June 2011) finds the College Grade 1 “Outstanding” overall. Furthermore, in terms of student outcomes, the Data Service’s National Success Rates place Highbury top of a list of all English FE colleges on overall success, with a percentage of 92.1. This gives the college the right to its headline claim,

“We are Number One – the top general further education college in England.”


The IT department plays a full and energetic part in this success, supporting learning, administration and management with a range of applications and systems.

At the same time, in order to achieve cost-effectiveness, and a strong focus on teaching and learning, the college constantly reviews its financial policies and practices.

“We have a strong internal culture around managing costs, but also for maximizing educational benefit,” says Paul Rolfe, Highbury’s Head of IT and Library Services.

Making the most of Campus Agreement

Microsoft Campus Agreement allows FE and HE institutions to use a wide range of Microsoft products for a year without having to track individual licences. Because software licensed under the agreement is heavily discounted, there are significant cost benefits to be had.

For these benefits to be fully realised, though, requires robust internal communications channels to be in place and a full awareness of the overall needs of the institution, from an IT perspective.

With this in place and by utilising the agreement fully, the institution could prevent unnecessary investments by embracing a product covered under the Microsoft Campus Agreement rather than sourcing an alternative product.

This is an area where there’s a clear need for confident IT leadership and management, with the support of a Microsoft partner who fully understands licensing and the portfolio of products available.

At Highbury, Paul Rolfe and his team have brilliantly shown what’s possible. Working with Microsoft partners Phoenix Software and Silversands, they’ve put their campus agreement to work, matching subscriptions to need and ensuring that Microsoft products are considered and evaluated first before considering more expensive options that don’t always integrate as well. Now, as a result, they’re realising the financial advantages of the agreement as fully as possible.

This hasn’t been achieved overnight. It’s meant a methodical drive, spread over several years, both to improve the use of IT for learning and to ensure that the most cost-effective solutions are in place.

“The IT team have been reviewing Microsoft’s complete portfolio,” says Paul Rolfe, “Rationalising and harnessing the power of the campus agreement and focussing our minds on efficiency savings as well as bringing new services to staff and students without affecting the bottom line.”

Reaping the Benefits

Key Microsoft products brought into use at Highbury include the Windows 7 Operating System , with “Direct Access” which, says Paul Rolfe, “….has enabled staff with college laptops to connect seamlessly to the college network wherever they have an internet connection. The IT team are also able to provide staff with remote support using remote assistance as well as to deploy new software titles to staff remotely. ‘’Direct Access’’ really came into its own during January 2011 when the college was closed by snow for three days”

Communication has also been hugely improved by the implementation of SharePoint 2010 . With e-Forms and Workflows there’s quicker decision-making and real savings in administration time and resources.

In some cases, it’s been possible to use the campus agreement to replace existing software with less costly Microsoft solutions. Moving to Exchange Filtering for email filtering, for example, has saved £3,500 a year, and moving to Microsoft Forefront for virus protection, free with the campus agreement has also made considerable savings.

So how much is Highbury College saving by making their campus agreement work for its living?

“By utilising the campus agreement, Highbury has reduced the IT annual revenue budget by £13,990 which is 2% of total revenue spend. In addition to this we have managed to save three posts through natural wastage within the IT Team, saving £84,573 a year, which is a quarter of our departmental staff budget.”

The really big savings, though, are the intangible ones that come from what Paul says are, “More responsive, more robust, more reliable integrated systems.”

There’s more to come, too, as Paul Rolfe and his team work on the implementation of Microsoft Exchange 2010 and Microsoft Lync , all bringing the promise of new opportunities for communication and collaboration.

Throughout the Highbury story, Microsoft’ campus agreement, knowledgeably and effectively managed, is the key. It provides a sound foundation of cost-effective IT and has enabled Ofsted inspectors to report, not only that the college has outstanding leadership and management, but that “It has strong financial health and provides outstanding value for money.”

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