A programme shared is a problem halved

Universities could increasingly use the same degree programmes as they share services to save money, the vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University has suggested.

November 24, 2011

Malcolm Gillies questioned whether the University of London model, under which several separate institutions offer the same courses devised collectively, could be adopted more widely.

He asked delegates at the Shared Services for HE: Strategies for Results conference on 21 November whether universities could "go even further" than pooling functions such as IT and human resources.

"Could there be selective breaches of academic autonomy, and still have a fully coherent academic institution?" he asked, adding that institutions did not yet "quite have the answer" to this question. "The very qualification I have ... from the University of London, is a classic (example), in that now, if you did the same thing it would probably be awarded by four or five different bodies. In many cases that's very healthy," Professor Gillies said.

He also argued that whereas a year ago universities were looking to improve the quality of their services by sharing them, they now wanted to do so to save money.

"This year there are new cost-saving imperatives," he said. "There's a likely reduced number of higher education students next year, it could be as high as 10 or 12 per cent."

Professor Gillies is also chair of the board of London Higher, the body for higher education institutions in the capital.

He said that within the group there was a "good willingness to talk and some interesting shared approaches emerging" over pooling insurance, treasury management, and recruitment functions.

But he added that there was still a "lack of leadership" and that some institutions remained "wary" of sharing services.

In May it was revealed that the University of Warwick was in talks with the outsourcing company Tribal and five other unnamed universities about sharing "administrative services and IT infrastructures".

Tribal said that the discussions are still continuing and the other institutions remain anonymous.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com.

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