University of London considers outsourcing careers service

Institution investigates commercial options to generate surplus

January 16, 2014

The University of London could outsource its careers service, which provides advice to students at more than 50 institutions, to a for-profit private firm, it has emerged.

But the university has stressed that no decisions have yet been made on plans to create a “commercial services business” and that outsourcing is only one option on the table.

On 2 December, staff were sent a letter from Chris Cobb, the chief operating officer, outlining a programme to create “commercial shared services” in order to “generate additional surplus” for research activities and “sustainable management of the property portfolio”.

Four “delivery options” under consideration include the creation of a “new entity with a commercial partner utilising a wide range of the university’s existing services and back-office provision”.

It is understood that the university has already been in talks with about a dozen firms to scope out interest, although a final decision is not expected until the summer.

One option is that the university could allow a private firm to run the careers service for profit, using only the university’s brand and reputation. Another suggestion is that the University of London computer centre could be run with a private firm.

However, other shared services, such as centrally owned accommodation and the university’s International Academy (formerly the external degree system), are not thought to be part of the plans.

Andy Young, a regional support official for the University and College Union London, said: “We oppose privatisation and [changes] detrimental to jobs and terms and conditions. Our members are very concerned about this [and] what this may mean about the quality of service.”

Other options listed in the letter include setting up a “speculative technology venture” without transferring existing services, and maximising “commercial potential from existing services through internal restructuring and investment”.

Mr Cobb told Times Higher Education that the four options were designed to be “a catalyst for debate and (if we decide to pursue this further) it is likely that a final outcome will be a hybrid of these models”.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

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