Accountability costs cut by £50 million

Hefce report claims universities’ administrative burden has been reduced by a fifth in four years, writes John Gill

January 27, 2009

The amount universities have to spend accounting for the way they use public money has been slashed by £50 million in four years, a report says.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England, which has pledged to cut costs, commissioned the study on the red tape associated with accountability requirements.

Between 2004 and 2008, it says in the report, the costs of accountability fell by just over a fifth, broadly in line with Hefce’s targets.

This fall follows a 25 per cent reduction in the administrative burden between 2000 and 2004, and Hefce wants costs to be cut by a further 10 per cent by 2010-11.

According to the study’s authors, PA Consulting Group, the total costs of compliance fell from about £240 million in 2004 to £190 million last year.

However, despite these headline figures, Mike Boxhall, one of the authors of the report, said that the picture behind the numbers remained “quite mixed”.

While the study measured costs linked with specific accountability demands from bodies such as Hefce and the Quality Assurance Agency, it did not consider the impact of more general public regulations such as the costs of complying with health and safety laws or the Freedom of Information Act, he said.

Steve Egan, deputy chief executive of Hefce, said the sector was moving from a position in which accountability was seen as a burden to one in which it was a “positive force”.

Michael Whitehouse, assistant auditor general at the National Audit Office, added that the reduction in burden should “free up institutions and staff to focus on their main activities: supporting frontline teaching and research”.

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