Operational efficiencies in higher education – three case studies


Universities are increasing their effectiveness by driving operational efficiencies and reinvesting the savings made in front line student services and better research – thereby increasing human capital in the economy. Compelling evidence of this was provided in the report ‘Making the best better – efficiency and effectiveness in higher education‘ which was produced by Sarah Jackson of the N8 Research Partnership on secondment to BIS.

To follow up, we’re highlighting three case studies from the report which show how universities have achieved operational efficiencies in procurement, workforce change and financial management.

So what do they have in common? Foremost among the success factors was the role of strong and skilled leadership. In addition, adequate time was allowed for the changes to embed within the organisation, and there was appropriate support for the costs of change.

It’s also worth highlighting the other attribute these institutions share with all universities: their organisational autonomy. It gives them the flexibility to reinvest savings made in order to improve research and teaching, which in turn helps to improve skills, knowledge and human capital in the wider economy.

Case studies

Procure to Pay – Newcastle University

Newcastle University has made savings of £1.7m a year through improvements in procurement, and is forecasting annual savings of £2.4m moving forward. The 18-month project focused on identifying and implementing improvements in buying goods and services.

‘We found that focusing a dedicated team on change and communications played a key role in realizing benefits from our new e-marketplace and billing workflow.’ Richard Dale, Executive Director of Finance, Newcastle University

Performance enabling – Swansea University

Swansea University has implemented a new performance review system supporting increased outputs from academic staff.

‘We believe that our approach could be usefully applied to work relating to performance being undertaken in other institutions. We are happy to disseminate the scheme more widely via the Efficiency Exchange, UHR and via other opportunities.’ David Williams, Director of Human Resources, Swansea University

Financial management – Imperial College London

Imperial College London has held pay costs and staff numbers in central support functions since 2009, maintaining a flat cost base at around £57k per staff FTE, absorbing the impact of inflation.
‘It has been a challenge, but we have coped so far by continuously adapting and introducing incremental improvements,’ says Tony Lawrence, Director of Financial Management, Imperial College London.