Falmouth Exeter Plus, chief executive officer, Niamh Lamond tells Efficiency Exchange how services shared between two Cornwall universities are saving money, improving delivery to students and having a transformational impact on the area both economically and socially.
1. Could you start by describing what FX Plus is?
Falmouth Exeter Plus (FX Plus) is the joint venture partnership between the University of Exeter and Falmouth University, established to provide shared professional services to staff and students of both universities in Cornwall.
This partnership celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, but since start-up has evolved into the organisation it is today. With nearly 500 staff providing a wide range of professional services (Estates, IT, Library and Academic Skills, Student Services and Campus Services), it is pioneering shared services delivery in the sector.
Our mission is to deliver world class professional services to support the global ambitions of our university partners. The current Falmouth Exeter Plus brand was launched in 2012 to reflect the ‘connectedness’ to our universities and the synergies and added value of sharing services.
It’s a quiet brand in terms of how we communicate with students, because we want them to view our services seamlessly as part of their university’s offer.
2. What’s the significance of the ‘shared’ part of this shared service? What benefits would you say the university partners have gained?
The vast majority of what FX Plus provides is ‘shared’, which means we deliver services to the two universities’ staff and student bodies, plus our own staff through single FX Plus teams.
In some areas like accommodation services, there is barely any difference between the needs of a student at Falmouth University and the needs of a student at the University of Exeter, but in subject specific areas like library services there is more differentiation. We do aim to align services where there is no reason not to and that helps in terms of efficiency, but more importantly, in terms of the student experience.
Shared services and a shared campus have allowed the two universities to do what they would otherwise have found hard, if not impossible, because of the lack of scale.
The financial gains are real and substantial – 40% average saving compared with the costs of not sharing – but so also are the benefits relating to the quality of services. This is achievable through economies of scale and having a strong service culture, as well as enrichment of student experience due to the more diverse student mix and knowledge transfer and cross-fertilisation of ideas.
3. You’ve been involved from the very start in your former role as Director of Finance & Resources at Falmouth University. Did you ever imagine that FX Plus would achieve what it has?
At the beginning, there were genuine concerns about the risks of developing a new university campus in such a peripheral location. Would staff come and would students come? There were also concerns about how the partnership of two very different universities would fare if the chips were down.
When FX Plus was embryonic, the idea of sharing services was pretty radical; a walk into uncharted territory.
The success of both universities in Cornwall is a tribute to the vision of the leadership and to the quality of staff across our partnership. Our student body, the Falmouth and Exeter Students’ Union (FXU), is a joint one like FX Plus, and has played a crucial role in supporting the development of the student experience and establishing an integrated student community.
4. You recently led a sell-out workshop at the recent Efficiency Conference about your new project funded by HEFCE. What that’s about?
Our HEFCE funded project, HERBi (Higher Education Realisation of Benefits interactive tool), focuses on how our experience of shared services can be shared with the wider HE sector.
Simon Perks, the project manager, was appointed by our project steering group, to create a benefits realisation model using real and current data from FX Plus. Once this has been sufficiently tested, the model will be broadened to allow universities to test different sharing scenarios. While the model concentrates on quantitative benefits (i.e. financial savings), qualitative benefits, such as knowledge sharing and user satisfaction, are also covered.
The project is progressing well and we plan to have a user friendly web-based model to help other universities assess the benefits of sharing professional services by the end of June 2015.
5. What would you say other institutions could learn from FX Plus? How do you plan to share the learning from the project?
Our experiences, substantiated by the HERBi model, demonstrate that it is possible for universities to share professional services as a means of improving service quality and user satisfaction while also making very substantial financial savings.
In these challenging times, many institutions across the country face tough financial decisions. Sharing services is an alternative to cutting back on teaching and research, or even considering mergers. From a student’s perspective, shared services mean their fees go further in terms of funding their university experience.
The user friendly web portal, along with supporting notes, will be the key outputs from the HERBi project. This will be maintained for at least three years and updated as further experience is gained.
Simon and I have been invited by UUK and BUFDG to present the project at recent national conferences, which has helped to raise its profile. As we need volunteers to test the model, these events have attracted a number of potential HE partnerships to try it out and give us feedback.
Once the model is finalised, we will use the Efficiency Exchange and other professional networks in the sector to disseminate the model.
6. What element of your role do you enjoy the most?
I love the fact we are playing a pivotal role in ensuring that two great universities can be successful in Cornwall, and being part of a partnership that has a transformational impact on the region both economically and socially. The sense of purpose is so clear and important, and shared by our staff. Seeing staff develop, innovating within their services and growing in confidence is very rewarding.
7. What do you like to do when you are away from the office? I hear Cornwall is good for surfing.
Of course living in Cornwall is magical, especially in fine weather, and the waves are great for surfing.
Personally, I don’t surf and rarely have enough time to do all the things I really want to do.
Besides my demanding job as CEO of FX Plus, I have two non-executive director appointments supporting businesses in two very important sectors of the Cornish economy; tourism and off shore renewables (wave energy). I am also a trustee of the Hall for Cornwall, the county’s leading theatre venue.
When we can, my husband and I spend holidays with our respective families and when at home, we love walking the Cornish coastline, sailing, cycling around the creeks and looking after our Cornish garden.
Whenever possible, playing in a ladies’ golf competition or league match makes a great weekend complete.