Five new ways that universities are seeking value for money

University mortar boards in the air

Universities are continuing to seek value for money by finding smarter ways of doing things. The savings made enable universities to invest in modernisation and build a resilient higher education sector. The reasons for doing so are more compelling than ever, and are being articulated from a range of perspectives.

In its grant letter to Hefce in February 2014, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has stressed the importance of value for money in higher education. Sir David Bell, vice chancellor of the University of Reading has observed: “Success will be inextricably linked to who can run a lean and efficient operation“. And The Economist believes that “a revolution has begun in higher education driven by three forces of rising costs, changing demand and disruptive technology.”

Five new areas of work

The BIS letter to Hefce also announced a second phase of work to examine and promote efficiency in higher education, led by Professor Sir Ian Diamond. In response, a range of professional groups are now engaged in five new areas of work, coordinated by Universities UK.

It’s worth remembering that universities do already have a good story to tell about efficiency. A UUK report in 2013 showed that £480m of efficiency and value for money savings were made in 2011/12 alone. This is on top of £1.4bn saved since 2005. But as a sector, we’re not always as good as we could be at getting the message out there. The new areas of work offer a great opportunity to show that we are doing everything we can to demonstrate value for money to students and the public.

Here’s a breakdown of the new areas of work.

1. Asset Sharing

Enabling universities to share equipment and facilities can create opportunities for excellent research and has the potential to reduce costs.

Led by the N8 Research Partnership, the project will take stock of the sharing of research assets across the higher education sector, and will identify the challenges and enablers of this sort of collaboration. Building on the recent work undertaken by the N8 Research Partnership and in collaboration with other research partnerships, the project will:

  • provide an account of progress that has been made on asset sharing to date
  • identify good practice and develop rigorous case studies
  • explore the practical and policy challenges that impact on greater asset sharing.
  • seek to develop metrics and benchmarks against which the impact of asset sharing can be evaluated.

For more information: see the asset sharing project page or contact the N8 Research Partnership.

2. Open data

By using open data principles, universities can get the best out of their data resources to support activities such as student choice and recruitment, and managerial decision making.

This workstream is being taken forward by UUK as part of the  ’Creating value from open data’ joint programme with the Open Data Institute.

A key strand of the project will look at how open data could advance efficiency and modernisation. The focus will be on operational data, although the project will also take account of the fact that, for many institutions, it is open data’s application in research that that is driving new practice and standards.

Seminar series

On 24 June, UUK launched a seminar series ‘Creating value from open data’ investigating the potential application and benefits of open data in higher education. Watch the video of the first seminar with Gavin Starks, Chief Executive of the Open Data Institute.

For more information, see the open data project page, or contact

3. Delivering value from the HE estate

Understanding the sector’s best practice and innovations can help universities manage the spaces in which staff and students live and work in the most efficient and effective way.

Led by the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE), this project will build on the work of the existing AUDE Space Planning Group and will examine performance, successes and challenges in the management of university estates. The project team will analyse data on space utilisation, including international comparisons. They will identify methods that could help universities to improve their use of space, as well as explore new models for understanding the value delivered by the higher education estates.

4. Evidencing efficiency

An examination of the strategic value of investment within universities will aid understanding of how and why they need to invest for the future. Also, analysing data from universities in a consistent way will provide more reliable estimates of how the sector delivers efficiency savings.

This project is being taken forward by Hefce and UUK. It will address the areas of work identified by BIS as ‘quantifying and evidencing gains’ and ‘investment strategy and operational plans’.

To begin the study of how the sector quantifies and reports on efficiency gains, Hefce will repeat the analysis of value for money (VFM) reports it conducted in 2013 to provide a comparable figure to estimate efficiency savings in 2012/13. Hefce and UUK will then work with other sector stakeholders to develop a more robust and consistent framework for reporting VFM data in future years.

In addition, the project team will examine how university finances are being managed and seek to demonstrate how and why institutional surpluses are being used to fund investment in capital infrastructure.

For more information, see the evidencing efficiency page.

5. The HE workforce

Diversity, autonomy and competitiveness are factors that have influenced the success of the higher education sector, and the project will seek to identify both practical and policy developments to support and enhance these characteristics.

This work is being taken forward by a partnership of UUK, Hefce, University Human Resources, UCEA and the Leadership Foundation.

Four concurrent, cross-cutting work streams will look at:

  • Organisational change
  • HR processes and streamlining administration
  • HR as an agent for enhancing business effectiveness and organisational development
  • Employee engagement and wellbeing.

A project will look at identifying good practice in terms of performance management and reward pathways, and how institutions can become more effective, responsive and demand-led.

For more information, see the HE workforce project page.

The impact of Wakeham

In addition to the above workstreams, UUK has recently been invited to work with BIS and other stakeholders to begin to evaluate the impact of the Wakeham review. A working group will explore the progress and savings that have been made and review the effects of such savings on the sustainability of the research base. The group will also consider options for the development of efficiency and sustainability in the research base.

What’s next?

The groups working in these areas will deliver interim reports to UUK and emerging findings will be shared with BIS after the summer. A final report coordinated by UUK is planned for delivery to the Minister by February 2015.

Find out more

Here’s an overview of the efficiency in higher education programme. Following on the Diamond Review in 2011, work continues in these other important areas: procurementshared services and projects funded by the Innovation and Transformation Fund. To keep up to date with developments, you are welcome to subscribe for our updates and follow us on Twitter @EfficiencyEx.

Ian Powling is Project Manager of the Efficiency Exchange, a service delivered by UUK in partnership with Jisc, Hefce and the Leadership Foundation.

Ian Powling
Senior Education Advisor CCEG