Does staff training x benefits ÷ by cost = value for money?

Sector can use toolkit to gauge whether it is worth investing in coaching. David Matthews reports

October 27, 2011

Academics should be assessed by their managers, peers and themselves to see whether money spent on training university staff is worthwhile, it has been suggested.

A toolkit developed by Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University, Oxford Brookes University and University College London aims to find the "return on investment" from training.

Fiona Robson, a senior lecturer in human resource management at Newcastle Business School and a project manager on the scheme, said that over the past five to 10 years there had been a "major investment in training" by universities.

But there was "limited evidence to show how universities can really review the benefit that has come from it", she said.

Where academics were instructed on how to teach better, Dr Robson said, peer review of their lectures could be used, although this would only be right for staff that had received "long-term training".

Dr Robson added that self-evaluation could be useful, with lecturers asked to provide examples of how their training did or did not improve their teaching.

They could also use National Student Survey scores to show improvements, she argued.

Other areas could be assessed more simply (whether staff had absorbed basic health and safety training could be ascertained using a simple questionnaire, for example). But leadership and development coaching needed something "more detailed", Dr Robson said, such as appraisals by line managers three to sixth months after completion.

Where staff took on much more "intensive" training, scores could be given on performance, which could then be used to calculate the return on investment.

Universities could work out the time saved through better training, multiply it by the value of an employee's time and compare this to the cost of the training, Dr Robson said.

This would then show whether the training had been good value for money, and the toolkit includes a spreadsheet to calculate the return on investment.

This kind of measurement was intensive and should only be used for about 10 per cent of courses, she said.

Dr Robson stressed that the toolkit was "not making judgements about individual people, but whether these programs are doing what we want them to do".

The project, which has been running since autumn 2009, was funded with £142,000 from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Dr Robson said the scheme had identified 47 different tools to measure the effectiveness of training, with the resources available for free online.

However, a spokesman for the University and College Union said that the development of personnel was "too serious to be left to a software program".

"There seems to be no limit to the gullibility of some universities when it comes to buying this type of stuff," he said.

"What staff need is their institution to invest in them, take time to understand their needs and to make relevant training easily available."

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