Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Standardisation vs Diversity

As we sit and wait (and wait....) for the White Paper on Higher Education, I thought I'd write this to pass the time, and stop me reading the hilarious #HEWhitePaper tweets. Suspect I'm not going to be quite as amused by the real thing.....

This morning I briefed our University Executive Board on the work of the UUK Efficiency and Modernisation Task Force which I'm a member of. Gave them some context to the setting up of the group - the changing economic context, the pressure on finances, broader public sector developments (eg work of the Efficiency Reform group under Ian Watmore), increasing competition within tighter resouce contratints, and last but certainly not least, the belief in BIS that the University sector is really, and I mean really, inefficient.

So, the group has focused on effectiveness, quality and efficiency, and looked at evidence from a number of sources.  Evidence from the private and public sectors is that simplification and standardisation of processes is the most important starting point to achieving efficiency savings. The other important factor is understanding the cost of services - you need to know this to decide where to focus your activities and to know how much you're likely to save.  Then of course there is the level of  - and this is a word used in discssions within the group - mandation. This is a real word, but actually means to memorise a seech, not to mandate, which is the context in which it has been used. Anyway, that aside, its not a popular concept in Universities, but successful efficiency initiatives in all sectors tend to be characerised by defined and clear authority to make decisions, take responsibility for outcomes, and actually instigate - and make compulsory - change when required.

The group has also identified a lot of good practice in the sector - we just don't tell anyone about it.

So, the report will be out in a few weeks, and then we'll be looking at how and which bits we implement.  We've already got a lot of things underway or planned including business process review and improvements using LEAN, IT as a Shared Service and investment in cloud computing.

Interesting reception to my presentation by UEB. I think it's fair to say not all were convinced by the standardisation argument, suggesting that we are a diverse body and shouldn't be subject to it. Of course, I can't argue with us being diverse - we are, but I can argue, and will, that we need to standardise those processes that don't add value if we're going to have any hope of investing in those which do, which of course may be diverse. I can see no good reason why one department processes an invoice differently to another, but I can see why teaching, learning and research needs to be different.

I think there are some interesting discussions to come.

No comments: