A Shared-Services Model: Increasing capacity and collaboration in three Scottish colleges

Over the past 20 months, Borders College, Forth Valley College, West Lothian College and EAUC have collaborated on an award-nominated shared-services model that has helped each college increase its own dedicated sustainability resource, whilst taking collaboration and sector sustainability learning to new levels. This blog, written by Rory Hill (Sustainability Project Manager for the Central and South Scotland College Partnership),outlines the journey of this partnership, to date, and reflections for other institutions interested in this approach.

Forming the Central and South Scotland College Partnership
Formed in summer 2021, the Central & South Scotland College Partnership (CSSCP) is an award-nominated partnership creating sustainability impact through a shared-services model within three relatively small colleges in Scotland.

For over a decade the Scottish college sector has been at forefront of public sector sustainability leadership and practice in Scotland. Now, during a difficult time for the public sector finance, colleges are striving to do even more with their limited resources against a backdrop of increased individual and sector ambition and Scottish Government expectations in tackling the climate emergency and wider sustainable development issues.

This challenge brought Borders College, Forth Valley College and West Lothian College, some of Scotland’s smallest colleges, together to discuss solutions. While other institutions have dedicated Sustainability roles or teams, at these colleges staff involved in sustainability had other primary responsibilities, particularly around estates.

To use their resources as efficiently as possible, the colleges approached EAUC to facilitate and host a shared role with the aim of bringing on board additional sustainability knowledge and capacity to take forward strategic sustainability projects. Together, Borders College, Forth Valley College, West Lothian College and EAUC formed the Central & South Scotland College Partnership (CSSCP) and hired a Sustainability Project Manager, whose time and costs are split between the colleges. To trial this shared services model, the Sustainability Project Manager started an 18-month contract in January 2022.

Integration and Impact
Over the course of the partnership, the Sustainability Project Manager has become integrated into college teams and sustainability decision-making, working with stakeholders from across the colleges including sustainability committees, working groups and senior leadership. Working across multiple institutions in this way has enabled knowledge sharing and has encouraged efficiencies as many of the colleges’ needs are similar and overlapping. For instance, when developing a new process for one college, this can then be easily replicated for the others, without having to recreate the original resource.

By working in this way, the CSSCP colleges have been able to explore new aspects of sustainability which they would have otherwise lacked the capacity to pursue. These include using the Climate Action Roadmap for FE Colleges to benchmark progress toward Net Zero and successfully applying for Scottish Green Public Sector Estates Decarbonisation Scheme funding to identify and deliver on-campus decarbonisation projects. By using the Sustainability Project Manager’s time effectively, the partnership has made considerable savings compared to having similar work completed by external consultants. Their long-term involvement has also allowed oversight of complex projects and policies, including new Net Zero Plans they have written for Forth Valley College and West Lothian College.

The CSSCP colleges are delivering sector-leading initiatives through the partnership with guidance from EAUC. The CSSCP colleges were among the few tertiary education institutions, and indeed wider public bodies, to have included commuting and supply chain emissions in their Public Bodies Climate Change Duties reports in 2021/21.

CSSCP are also delivering innovative work around climate change adaptation, recognising this as an area the colleges’ themselves and the wider sector have made limited progress on compared to emissions reporting and reduction. To begin considering adaptation, CSSCP have developed a Strategic Climate Risk Assessment process using resources from Adaptation Scotland. These risk assessments record threats presented to college operations by climate change and extreme weather, and identify actions to reduce their likelihood and impacts – allowing long term planning. Based on this experience, EAUC Scotland are working with CSSCP’s Sustainability Project Manager to produce guidance for the wider sector.

As a member of CSSCP, EAUC Scotland has also gained significant benefits by hosting the Sustainability Project Manager within their team. This has included detailed insights into the challenges and activities that colleges face surrounding sustainability, examples of best practice and case studies. These insights have also helped shape EAUC Scotland’s project work, improving the accessibility and relevance of communications and project delivery for the sector.

New Horizons
In July 2023 following the completion of the trial, all the partners involved considered CSSCP to be a success and extended the partnership by a further 18 months. Reflecting on the conditions needed to deliver impact within the shared-services role and partnership, Rory Hill, Sustainability Project Manager for the CSSCP, identifies:
  • Being open and willing to share experiences, no matter how small or specific, can help institutions to learn and to identify new opportunities.
  • When working in partnership it is crucial to recognise that demands from partners will vary over time and so a flexible approach is required to manage time and resources.
  • Allowing new roles the freedom to develop according to new and emerging needs is important for encouraging innovation and ensuring progress in previously overlooked topics.
To build on the success of CSSCP, EAUC Scotland are now seeking expressions of interest from institutions who are interested in joining new partnerships to share similar shared sustainability roles. If you have any further questions about the Shared-Services Model or would like to express interest in replicating the model within your institution, please email Matt Woodthorpe via [email protected].

This article was published by the EAUC team. We welcome article submissions year-round, particularly from EAUC Members - get in touch today.

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