In hungry times, post-92s grow keen on Lean

Teaching-led universities have been more open than research-intensive institutions to adopting a Japanese manufacturing technique designed to cut out "wasteful" inefficiency as they face a tougher fight for survival, it has been suggested.

January 12, 2012

Zoe Radnor, professor in operations management at Cardiff Business School, said that post-1992 institutions appeared keener on taking up and using the "Lean" system to give them a competitive edge.

The method - which was originally devised by the Japanese automotive firm Toyota - seeks to cut out unnecessary processes and procedures in a bid to achieve greater efficiency and better value for customers.

Lean was highlighted in Universities UK's report on efficiency led by Ian Diamond and published in September 2011, as a "proven methodology" for helping to cut costs.

Professor Radnor, speaking ahead of delivering a keynote address at Creating Value: Delivering More with Less in Higher Education, a conference held last week at the University of Exeter, said that the sector had been slower on the uptake of Lean than some parts of the public sector.

She said interest was increasing, although it was still mainly affecting teaching practices rather than research, which in turn affected what types of university were trying it.

"It appears that new universities, due to their teaching-led mission, have generally been a bit more open to taking on Lean than the older universities," she said.

"If they are going to compete against older universities and still charge £9,000 [a year for undergraduate tuition fees] they have got to make damn sure that the student experience is first class, so they have used Lean and similar approaches as a way to make sure the processes are slick."

Professor Radnor added that Lean should also not be seen as a way to cut costs in universities, as changes in funding meant this was happening anyway.

"Lean isn't the reason for that, but it is a possible solution to manage it. We can't see Lean as the reason people are losing jobs, cutting programmes, cutting services," Professor Radnor said.

She also stressed that it should not be used as a "one-off" and should contribute to a change of culture in university departments. "It has got to be more than rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. It is about really fundamentally changing the way we view and run our organisations."

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