University of London shared services

The University of London is poised to build upon its reputation as a significant provider of shared services to higher education, says Chris Cobb, chief operating officer of the University of London.

The University of London has already established itself as a significant provider of shared services. This, and its position at the heart of one of the highest concentrations of HE providers in the world, provides an excellent foundation from which to develop services further.

For example, our computer centre (ULCC) provides a Moodle VLE service to 2 million students and 150 institutions. The Careers Group, the largest of its kind in Europe, provides services to over 50 institutions. We also provide a range of other services to the University’s federal members, such as our housing and halls of residence services and the University’s International Programmes which have over 54,000 registered students.

These services all operate to different business models and drivers. For example, some are more service related whereas others are more commercial in nature. Also, some are clearly branded as University of London whereas others are ‘white labelled’ so that the service looks and feels as if it is actually part of the contracting institution rather than externally provided.

Building on our experience

In response to government policy and the UUK Diamond Review on Efficiency and Effectiveness in Higher Education, we recognised that there is an opportunity to build on this experience and broaden the University’s offer of shared services to the sector. We also saw some VAT benefits for our customers through the creation of cost sharing groups (CSGs).

To aid our planning, we analysed demand by interviewing and surveying 40 universities. Unlike previous studies, our survey focused on individual services rather than large divisional or functional units. The findings revealed considerable changes in demand since the last landscape study in 2006.

There is now significant appetite for new shared services and, pleasingly, feedback has also shown that the University of London is perceived as being a trusted and neutral provider of service – and more cognisant of the precise needs and demands of the sector than private sector companies.

So where is the demand?

In terms of institutional profile, our analysis showed that the demand is greatest in medium sized universities that have three vital attributes: need, capacity and ethos for change. In contrast, we found that larger institutions could drive efficiencies on their own and smaller institutions lack the capacity to manage the changes required.

In terms of service areas, the greatest demand is in facilities management and ICT, and there is also significant demand in professional services such as HR and finance as well as some student related services.

A range of new services

The University now plans to use this demand analysis to develop a range of new services as well as exploring how some of its existing services could take advantage of cost sharing exemptions and new business models.

Chris Cobb is chief operating officer and university secretary of the University of London