As the UK higher education system goes through its biggest overhaul in 20 years, together with cost cutting targets becoming the norm, partnerships and collaborations are more important than ever before.
Earlier this year in March, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), Jisc and the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) announced plans to collaborate and cost share through a new partnership known as the M5 Group.
The process of collaboration between the three of us has been one of openness and looking at how we provide a better service for the sector.
We’re not only looking at what we can do immediately to ensure the group works as efficiently as possible, but we’re thinking creatively and long term about how to achieve real savings through new ways of working.
We are all constantly looking for ways to keep subscriptions as low as possible as funding arrangements change, and through our partnership we’re identifying ways of creating better services for our members.
Throughout our discussion at the early part of this year it was really clear we have very distinct and different strengths and offers. So whilst we are continuing to operate as separate and independent organisations we have identified a variety of common systems that, if brought together, could generate efficiencies in both cost and workflow.
We have been exploring the feasibility of a number of options and have identified priorities that can achieve both savings and efficiencies. The first step is to look at our IT and infrastructure, and over the next two years we’re ambitiously looking at a potential £0.5-1million in efficiency savings.
For example, we are moving to a common cloud-based customer relationship management platform, whereby we share the cost of licences, implementation and administration – that doesn’t mean we’re sharing membership data, but negotiating savings and collaborative working arrangements where it is sensible to do so.
Ways of working
In the longer term we’re exploring the use of the office space we have across the M5 Group in the south west in Bristol, Cheltenham and Gloucester, as well as across the rest of the country. We are also looking at where it might make sense for smaller offices, like those in London, to share space too.
Jisc and QAA are exploring a joint London location as the lease of QAA’s London office will expire next year, and HESA already makes use of Jisc desk and office space in London. All our teams are used to flexible working, moving between locations and working from home. So we’re exploring how we can all be part of the eduroam network which means our teams can move easily between locations and are able to connect wherever they are.
Playing to our strengths and expertise
Recognising each organisation's strengths and areas of expertise, we’re delighted, therefore, to be putting our collaboration on a legal footing with a memorandum of understanding. This work is just beginning and has much potential with more to come.