Efficiencies review to celebrate best practice

Universities UK study is ‘not agenda for cuts’ but a chance to salute best practice. Holly Else writes

February 20, 2014

A fresh review of effectiveness and efficiencies in higher education will focus on the workforce, but will not be a “hard-nosed” agenda for job cuts.

Sir Ian Diamond, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, who is leading the Universities UK report, said it would look at how the academic career structure could be improved to attract the “very best”.

The University and College Union said the report should examine vice-chancellors’ growing pay packets while looking at best practice examples of efficiencies that have not had a negative impact on staff.

Sir Ian said he had “absolutely no preconceptions” about what the report, scheduled for publication in 2015, would conclude.

He added that his role was not “discovering great new things that universities have not done”, but to communicate best practice from higher education and other sectors.

The report will follow Sir Ian’s previous review of efficiencies in higher education, published in September 2011, which flagged up ways that universities could streamline services and reduce costs. It found “significant potential” for outsourcing services, such as IT and student accommodation, to the private sector.

Sir Ian said the first report was “extremely successful” and led to best practice reports in procurement, IT and shared services.

The new report will look at areas not covered in the original publication, including the use of space and assets, big data, investment strategy and operational plans.

“The [efficiency] agenda is still important,” Sir Ian said. “These are the major opportunities that we have to use our pounds more effectively while maintaining and increasing the quality of what we do.”

Areas such as investment strategy and operational plans are important for effectiveness, he said. Funding from government streams has fallen in recent years and universities need investment strategies in order to maintain the capital development needed to improve the student experience and quality of research, he added.

Chris Hale, deputy director of policy at Universities UK, said: “This is not just a hard-nosed strategy about reorganisation and structural change in the sector.”

He added: “The sector is changing quite significantly. Institutions are operating in a very different environment and they have to think about how they are structuring themselves.”

Any organisational change has to be supported, Mr Hale said. “There is a big people dimension to that and that is where the higher education workforce comes in.”

Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, said: “The efficiencies review is a good opportunity for the sector to lift the lid on the secretive world of vice-chancellors’ pay and what exactly they have been doing to earn such large, and seemingly arbitrary, rises while driving down staff pay.”

She added: “The review may prove useful if it can demonstrate examples of cases in which savings had been made without any adverse impact on the institution or its staff.”

holly.else@tsleducation.com

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