A survey of 150 parliamentarians, carried out by ComRes for Universities UK, found that only 38 per cent felt higher education institutions did well at making efficient use of funding from the government, tuition fees and their assets – the second lowest score in the questionnaire. However, only 9 per cent felt that universities performed badly in this area, while the rest were neutral.
Universities’ efficiency was rated even lower in a poll of 100 politicians who were considered likely to be in the House of Commons after the next election, with only 30 per cent of respondents stating that they thought universities performed well, and 15 per cent replying that they felt universities performed badly.
The only area where universities were rated more poorly was on engaging with MPs and other policymakers. Only 24 per cent of MPs thought that universities performed well in this area, with 22 per cent taking a negative view. For future MPs, the results were 13 per cent and 29 per cent respectively.
The poll results were revealed at the Universities and National Public Affairs Forum 2015, held on 29 January and organised by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. This heard concerns that universities would be targeted for spending cuts in the next parliament.
In a blog post, Nicky Old, head of political affairs at UUK, says universities have undertaken a lot of work on efficiency in the last decade and that the survey results demonstrate the need to “do more to inform and to dispel misconceptions”.
“The only way in which universities have been able to continue to invest in their infrastructure, and to deliver the year-on-year improvements to student satisfaction, has been by working more efficiently”, says Ms Old. “Now we need make sure our politicians hear about this.”
The poll found that politicians recognised a number of areas where universities were performing well. Among MPs, 78 per cent felt universities were good at conducting world class research, 71 per cent highly rated their performance in competing internationally, and 56 per cent felt they were good at producing highly skilled and employable graduates.
When asked how they felt universities performed at contributing to local employment and the local economy, 48 per cent of MPs answered “well”, while for supporting policymaking with research the score was 44 per cent and for widening participation it was 41 per cent.
However, few MPs answered that they felt universities performed badly in these areas.
Almost universally across the board, a lower proportion of potential future MPs felt universities were performing well compared with current MPs.
The poll also asked politicians what they wanted to hear about from universities. Engagement with business and enterprise and employability were most prominent among serving MPs, particularly Conservatives. Research and innovation, and widening participation, also scored highly – particularly among Labour and the Liberal Democrats.