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Kaplan Heritage: An Interview With Alumnus, Jatinder Sharma

Jatinder Sharma, Kaplan alumnus

There is no better way to understand an industry, or a company, than through the individuals that represent it.

As part of our Kaplan Heritage celebration, we interviewed a selection of people who have been part of our story over the years: tutors, apprentices, current students, and those who are part of our Accountancy Training alumni.

We asked them about their personal experiences with Kaplan, some of which relate to memories dating as far back as 30 years ago.

Jatinder Sharma is a high achieving alumnus of Kaplan Financial. He was awarded an OBE in the 2015 New Year’s Honours List for his services to Further Education. The way in which Jatinder has developed, and transferred, his accounting skills to the education sector is insightful as much as it is inspiring.

Could you please provide a brief introduction to yourself and your role at Walsall College?

I was appointed the Principal and Chief Executive of Walsall College in December 2011. I started my journey at Walsall College in 2004  as Director of Finance. I later became Vice Principal, and in 2011, I applied for the role of Principal. It’s not directly a financial role but my finance skills are actually very relevant.

How has your Financial background been relevant to your role as Chief Executive and Principal of Walsall College?

99% of my time is spent thinking about the budget and keeping the business on the ground: money management, financial management and governance stewardship are therefore very useful skills to have. There have been year on year funding cuts in the education sector. This is the current biggest challenge facing colleges. As you can imagine, any loss making industry isn’t sustainable. This is why we have to manage our money very carefully. It can be a challenge: getting everyone to think like a business leader within the context of the education sector is not always easy.

What qualifications did you take, and what did you study with Kaplan?

I enrolled with FTC (now Kaplan) as a student back in 1998. Stuart Pedley Smith (Head of Learning at Kaplan) was one of my tutors back then; I have a lot of respect and admiration for him. I studied ACCA over a 3 year period. It was on a weekend basis, whilst working full time, and was 100% classroom based.

What is your favourite memory of studying at Kaplan?

All our tutors were superb, as you can imagine. Both the tutors and students were very driven, so we were all very determined to succeed. The sheer confidence and professionalism of the tutors was fantastic. They were at the top of their game, and taught in a very engaging way. Without the support of the tutors, I don’t think we would’ve gotten through. Everyone found the Financial Management module very hard, and I was no exception. But in the end, I got my highest mark on that subject.

Are you still in touch with anyone from Kaplan? Or others who were on your course?

On a professional basis, you do regularly bump into people you’ve studied with.

What do you see as the most important factors when creating a successful educational environment?

The college was awarded an ‘Outstanding’ grade by Ofsted in February 2013. We are ranked the 5th best college in the country. The reason why we are outstanding is because we are very clear with where we want to go. To be a successful college, you’ve got to have clear and concise material, but above all you must have outstanding teachers. Just like the ones I worked with at Kaplan. People who can simplify very complex things and make it digestible are important. Also, teachers “who are good to be around” are a must. It’s not just the teachers though; it’s the other staff, the pupils, the materials, everything. Every aspect of the educational institution has to work to its full potential.

How has technology and the online environment changed education in recent years, and do you see technology playing a much larger role in the future?

No doubt technology has played a huge part in accessing materials. We’ve won many awards for the adoption of technology in teaching, although I do not think the technology can entirely replace the teacher. Technology has its part to play as a great support method, but for me, face to face interaction is essential.

What has been your proudest career achievement?

Undoubtedly taking a struggling college and making it outstanding. My finance skills were important when it came to interpreting the data and using  financial expertise. As you mature, you become more aware of the human capital element in a business, and you should make sure that people are central to the decision making so that they are on that journey with you. We now have a 95% student pass rate, money in the bank, and state of the art facilities. I am very proud of what we have achieved, but I did not do this all on my own. You need all of the team onboard to be successful.

If you had to do it all again, but in a different career, what career would that be?

I’d find it hard to imagine working in any other industry. The reason I went into Accountancy was the fact that every business in the world needs a finance expert. Yes, business is changing, but Accountancy will always play a vital role. If I did it again, I would probably work a bit harder, but that’s all I can say. I’m glad I’ve been able to apply my finance skills to an exciting industry such as education. I’m currently trying to convince my son to get into Accountancy, but he wants to be a Doctor.  If I had the chance, I would take the same career path all over again.  I enjoy it immensely.