Wednesday, 3 March 2010

UCISA management conference - opening session

I'm at the UCISA Management Conference in Harrogate at the moment - my first full one as Chair. Conference started well with some interesting sessions. Th first one today was an introduction from the VC of Bradford University. He talked abut the outlook and pressures facing Universities, and what the shape of HEIs might be in a few years time.

In his opinion the HE system not in meltdown - we are facing challenges but are are in a strong position to meet them. The unit of resource is higher than ever before, and we've had an unprecedented decade of growth in capital funding and investment in infrastructure. We are heavily reliant on public funding -and that's why we will all be will be dramatically affected by the cuts announced in what he called Mandelson's Christmas Card. The financial environment will be challenging for several years.

Other issues we face are changing include student numbers - a few years ago we were worried about decreasing applications and the impact of demographic downtown. Now we have a cap on student numbers - different institutions will be effected differently. So, international, part time and postgrauate students are only areas where we can grow ourselves out of funding issues.

Another key driver over the next five years will be student demand and particularly a demand for quality, especially if the cap on fees is removed. There will be greater pressure from students with more more emphasis on surveys like NSS and customer experience.

One result of the pressure on public finances will be fewer higher education institutions - his advice was to appoint someone with mergers and acquisitions experience! This won't just be for financial reasons but will be strategic. These need not necessarily be between two publicly funded insititutions, as there will be a greater inroad from private sector.

HEIs will develop more distinctive identities - some focusing on more research, some focusing on more learning and teaching. There'll be a shift from a publically funded, centrally regulated campus-based HE system to a more distributed system with more input from private investment.

His conclusion was that there will be interesting times ahead but HE is still a fantastic place to work.

A good start to the conference. The exhibition is also excellent this year as always, and I'm trying to get round all of the suppliers to say hello. As usual there are some interesting freebies on offer, including a personalised caricature. Not very flattering is it?


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