The Higher Education Academy has won the backing of universities for a new subscription model, but has been forced to forgo as much as £1.5 million of hoped-for income.
All but a handful of UK institutions have now renewed their membership of the sector’s teaching champion, under a new structure that allows vice-chancellors to choose an appropriate level of support. Three packages are available and are priced according to the number of students enrolled.
This system was drawn up after universities rejected in January the HEA’s original proposal, which offered the same services to all institutions and would have led to subscription fees doubling for more than half of them.
While many institutions are still paying more, the revised model is likely to deliver total revenue of only £4.5 million, rather than the £5.5 million or £6 million that was hoped for, although this remains significantly up from this year’s total of £3 million.
The coming academic year is the first in which the HEA will receive no ongoing funding from the UK’s funding councils, having collected grants worth £13.5 million as recently as 2013-14.
Mark Jones, the HEA’s chief operating officer, told Times Higher Education that the new structure was viable because of further cost-cutting at the York-based organisation and increased project-related income, particularly from international activities.
“The reflection on [what happened in] January is that there was more that we could have done to have engaged more fully with stakeholders, and that was taken on board very much by us in the way that we responded after that,” Dr Jones said.
“The fact we have listened and the fact we went back and said ‘we haven’t got this right, we are going to do something different’ goes to show that we are listening and we are intent on serving the sector as best as we can.”
One subscription package offers universities access to HEA fellowships for academics and accreditation of internal staff development programmes. A second one, aimed particularly at smaller providers, gives access to networks that share expertise on teaching and disciplines. A third deal brings the other two together. Institutions can also purchase additional services such as participation in HEA surveys.
Questions over funding have hung over the HEA for much of its history, but Dr Jones argued that the organisation was now in a strong position, particularly as the teaching excellence framework had prompted universities to focus more closely on students' education.
“I think the future is brighter for the HEA because our mission and vision is aligned very much to what institutions want to get now,” he said.
“We are not complacent because the sector and the market are changing all the time, and we have to keep pace with that to be of value to the institutions. But I think we are in a more stable financial position now than we have been in the time that I have been at the HEA.”