A slimmed-down version of the Higher Education Academy has been outlined by its chief executive after the organisation was forced to lay off nearly half its staff.
Fewer teaching conferences will take place and less research will be commissioned as the HEA concentrates on just four priority areas, said Stephanie Marshall, who confirmed that about 90 of its 180 staff would leave the York-based organisation by August.
Those cuts follow the news in April that the HEA will by 2017 lose all its funding council money, which currently accounts for about 80 per cent of its overall income.
In an interview with Times Higher Education ahead of this week’s HEA annual conference at Aston University, Professor Marshall said that there would be a tighter focus on four “workstreams” that have demonstrable impact to individuals and institutions.
These include: improving curriculum design by drawing together best practice on graduate employability, digital literacy and other learning issues; promoting student engagement in teaching though peer-assisted or technology-enhanced learning; and exploring how to recruit more socially disadvantaged students and supporting them into the workplace.
“We are really focusing on what the sector needs help with,” said Professor Marshall. “We do not want to get sidetracked into other areas, so everything has to have an outcome either for individuals, institutions or the sector more widely.”
The fourth workstream is to promote teaching excellence through the HEA’s awards and its accreditation of postgraduate teaching certificates, which have enabled more than 50,000 academics to become fellows of the HEA so far.
It will continue to carry out its sector-wide surveys of postgraduates and will still lead a project to test grade point average degree classifications. But there will be fewer staff training workshops and teaching conferences, with just 15 day-long events taking place each year, said Professor Marshall.
“We spent a lot of time organising ad hoc events – there were well over 100 each year – [now] we will have a much tighter offer,” she said.
There will also be a push to ensure that research has visible impact, while there will be a tighter rein on the use of staff on “associate contracts”, which cost about £3.5 million between August 2011 and January 2013, according to an independent review by Capita Consulting published last month.
With the HEA moving towards financial self-sustainability, work to attract international subscribers will also continue, Professor Marshall said.
According to the Capita report, the HEA aims to gain an extra £1 million a year by 2015-16 by growing its institutional subscribers by 50 per cent, which would mean increasing its overseas subscribers 15-fold. It also wants to treble its UK consultancy income and increase its international consultancy income 12-fold – targets described by its board as “steep to stretching”.
Professor Marshall said that the HEA’s work with institutions in the Middle East was promising and she was “feeling very positive about our move through to the future”.
However, Sally Brown, a higher education consultant and former director of membership services at the HEA’s predecessor, the Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, said the HEA had to move towards subscriptions from individuals, as the ILTHE had, if it was to become self-sustainable.
“If you can convert those 50,000 accredited members into paying subscribers, the HEA will have a future,” said Professor Brown.
However, she welcomed the forthcoming changes because the HEA had become “too big and spread its wings too widely”. “I used to get an email almost every day telling [me] about some new regional event,” she said.