Consumer culture will challenge administrators

December 9, 2010

A heightened consumer culture among students under a new fees regime will mean more demands on administrators, a conference heard.

Delegates at the Association of University Administrators London regional conference, held last week, were told that they would be on the front line as universities responded to changes sparked by the Browne Review.

Jon Baldwin, registrar at the University of Warwick, predicted in the plenary address that higher fees would bring more complaints. He said that students and their parents would ask for more in return if fees rose to £9,000 a year, but that there would be "no more money in the system to meet those expectations".

He noted that the National Union of Students, despite its opposition to the reform, had begun to state that "substandard services would not be tolerated" under a new fees regime.

There would be "consequences if students don't receive what we've contracted to give them", he added. Mr Baldwin also highlighted a speech given by David Willetts, the universities and science minister, at the Universities UK conference at Cranfield University earlier this year. In it he said that "too many universities try to do too much in-house".

"For a group of administrators, that's interesting," Mr Baldwin said.

His points on the challenges facing administrators were echoed by Paul Curran, vice-chancellor of City University London.

As fees rise, there will be "a real challenge for universities in delivering value for money", Professor Curran said. "Some of that will fall to academic staff, but it will also fall to professional services staff."

Alison Johns, head of leadership, governance and management at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said administrators should provide evidence of their worth through "simple quantitative measures" of how much students value them.

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