Efficiency and effectiveness are key priorities for the UK higher education sector, but universities must continue to demonstrate good value for money in the new funding environment. These are the findings of a new report published today (Thursday) by Universities UK.
The report acknowledges the efficiencies already achieved by universities, while continuing to provide high quality teaching and research, but says there is substantial scope to do more. It highlights that the higher education sector is doing this against a backdrop of public teaching funding reductions, alongside the introduction of the new graduate contribution system and the resulting rise in student expectations.
The report focuses on identifying how universities can work across the sector more effectively to overcome duplication or fragmentation, and how this can be brought about through strengthened leadership, both at institutional and sector level.
Its key findings and recommendations include:
- Information on the costs of operational activities within higher education needs strengthening, to help demonstrate how they are ensuring value for money in these areas
- Benchmarking is vital to increasing efficiency, but currently its practice is piecemeal and fragmented and would benefit from more effective sector wide coordination
- Shared services are often viewed as an ‘off the shelf’ solution, but simplifying, streamlining and improving internal processes must be a priority in order to realise its benefits fully
- There is potential for outsourcing and the development of strategic relationships with the private sector to deliver services
- The sector is not yet making full use of its size and purchasing power to generate additional savings, particularly in England. A more strategic coordination of higher education procurement is proposed, along with challenging targets
“But universities have recognised for quite some time now that their future success, and by turn, that of our economy relies on increasing our efficiency and effectiveness, especially in the changing funding environment. Our report today shows that there are many excellent examples of universities improving their operational effectiveness, but we need to get better at sharing how we do it.
“Our aim is not to identify how universities can save money in the short-term. We want to show that it is better for students, universities and our economy if universities place efficiency at the heart of their long-term plans, so we can continue to enjoy an autonomous and diverse sector made up of effective universities providing the high quality teaching and research we have come to expect.”
Professor Eric Thomas, President of Universities UK, said: “This is a thorough report from Professor Ian Diamond and it's important that we take forward its recommendations.
“Universities have already made significant progress in terms of efficiency, but with a new funding environment and enhanced student expectations, it's more important than ever that we demonstrate good value for money.”
We've already started discussing how we can take forward the recommendations and work already in progress towards them, and I'll write more about that later.