The shared services delivery partnership of Falmouth University and the University of Exeter is starting work on an exciting new project to measure, analyse and model the costs and benefits of collaboration between UK higher education institutions. Project manager Simon Perks tells us more.
As we slide gracefully into 2015, our thoughts turn naturally to the opportunities that the New Year offers. And with the recent changes to the VAT treatment of cost sharing groups, taking another look at the potential cost savings and quality improvements offered by shared services arrangements should be near the top of our list.
The need for high quality data
What we need, though, is robust data on what such arrangements are likely to cost and on the nature and level of benefits – financial and otherwise – that they are likely to realise. And while there has been much talk over the past few years about the desirability of sharing services between higher education institutions, there has been precious little in the way of tangible evidence to back up the claims that have been made.
The Hefce-funded Benefits Realisation Analysis and Modelling (BRAM) project seeks to change this. Drawing on the experience of Falmouth Exeter Plus, the shared services delivery partner of Falmouth University and the University of Exeter, the project aims to develop an interactive tool that institutions can use to understand the financial and non-financial impact of sharing different services in different ways.
The tool will allow institutions to model different ways of sharing a broad range of student-facing and back-office services, so that they can understand and – crucially – quantify the costs that such arrangements would involve and the benefits that they could yield. It will also allow institutions to identify which services offer the greatest potential for cost savings and quality improvement through sharing.
A model for shared services
Falmouth Exeter Plus provides a broad range of services on Falmouth University’s Falmouth Campus and on the shared Penryn Campus in Cornwall. These range from library and academic skills, information technology and student support to estates, accommodation and all retail services. Falmouth Exeter Plus is owned jointly by the two universities and has its own senior management team and staff, who work closely with the two partners and the joint Falmouth Exeter student union.
How you can get involved
In researching and developing the model, we’re keen to draw on the experiences of as many institutions as possible in respect of shared services. Do you share services with other institutions? If so, what has the impact been in terms of cost and quality of the services? And if not, why not? Is it because sharing services wouldn’t work for your institution or because there just isn’t sufficient evidence to convince you that it’s worth looking at in more detail?
We’d also really like to know what you would look for in a tool that helps you to quantify the costs and benefits of shared services. What functionality would it need to have? What would you want it to tell you? What level of detail would you need? What would the tool look and ‘feel’ like to use?
Finally, you might have noticed that BRAM isn’t exactly the snappiest name for the project or for the model and tool that we are working to develop. And to be honest, we need something a little more exciting. The best we’ve come up with so far is the Higher Education Realisation of Benefits Evaluation and Reporting Tool, or HERBERT, but I really think we can do better than that.
So if you’d like to learn more about the project or to share your own experiences – or even just to suggest a better name – please feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or to call me on 07903 523 839. It would be great to hear from you.
Simon Perks is project manager for the BRAM project and director of Sockmonkey Consulting, which provides research and consultancy services to organisations in the public, not-for-profit and social enterprise sectors.