Earlier this month Universities UK published its report on ‘Efficiency and Effectiveness in Higher Education’. Today and Monday I’ll be sharing my own views of the report – today, an overview of its strategic direction, and on Monday, a more detailed look at some of the recommendations and how JISC can help institutions respond.
I think the report gives a really useful overview of the terrain and sets out the evidence that shows how the university sector is already addressing the agenda but also states how the higher education sector might start to better address efficiency into the future. The report’s findings are set out against a backdrop of the reduction in the amount of public funding directed at the learning and teaching grant in England alongside the drive across the UK for better value for money.
I was fortunate enough to be involved in the Sub Group that UUK established with representatives from relevant sector agencies and organisations. The Sub Group helped to identify issues and highlight relevant activities for the UK Efficiency and Modernisation Task Group, which was chaired by Professor Ian Diamond, and UUK, to take into account in their deliberations and research. There’s an overview of the task group’s work here (PDF). When the work began there was, as you’d expect, quite a focus on shared services, but quite quickly a richer picture emerged of activities that needed to be addressed in order for the sector to move further forward.
As the report states the UK university sector is already pretty effective in its contribution to the economy. As calculated a few years ago, it contributes £59 billion of output to the UK economy, and generates £5.3 billion of export earnings annually. But UUK recognises the need to do more. The report shone a light on a wealth of good work already underway, which is heartening. It states that perhaps the biggest hurdles to overcome in becoming more efficient lies in the fragmentation of good practice and that there is need for more coordination around solutions and sharing of good practice required. In his foreword Professor Diamond says,“The sector has been remarkably good at hiding this progress… it will be important that [the many good examples of efficiency are] promoted more widely.”
So key issues that the report says need to be addressed include: further transparency around costs; sharing of good practice and solutions; streamlining internal processes prior to any shared service identification and implementation; further coordination of higher education procurement at a national level and improved frameworks for benchmarking so it can be used as way to drive efficiency.
The report places efficiency in a strategic context and a long-term view of a diverse sector. This takes us to that often mentioned tension around collaboration and competition; this is something that I think the sector already handles in a number of areas and I think the recommendations that UUK set out are a good basis for understanding where efficiencies and collaboration can take place in order to allow for difference and competition to flourish where it makes sense.
So in short this is a useful report, one that looks more broadly than JISC’s mission, but shows how JISC can be part of a more effective and efficient sector through partnership with other agencies, UUK and universities. I look forward in anticipation to the follow up to the report.
On Monday I’ll share with you the specifics of how we believe JISC can help organisations respond to UUK’s recommendations. We’d be interested to hear what people think of the recommendations and how JISC can respond.
This is the first post in a two-part series responding to the UUK report on efficiency and effectiveness in higher education.
Read Rachel’s second blog post commenting on specific recommendations on Monday.
Discuss the issues raised here on the Guardian Higher Education Network online today at 2pm where the topic of discussion is “Do universities need to become more efficient?”