UK universities save over £1.38bn but more must be done to remain competitive, claims new report

A new report on the potential of collaboration and shared services in UK higher education (HE) launches this week fromLoughborough University and the Efficiency Exchange – the service operated by Universities UK (UUK) in partnership with Jisc, Leadership Foundation and HEFCE.

Praise is given to the efficiency savings achieved by universities, estimated at £1.38bn between 2005 and 2011, and the adoption of shared services have made a vital contribution to this sum. However, there is a clear message that UK HE must do more to emulate the business world and further embrace a culture of collaboration if it is to remain competitive on an international stage.

As next steps, the report highlights the opportunities for universities to streamline processes and create new efficiencies across internal departments, and with other institutions.

Martin Hamilton, futurist at Jisc, says:

“We welcome this report, which shows our sector is awake to the excellent opportunities that come with sharing functions, facilities and expertise. We are increasingly recognising that when we come together, we put the UK in the best competitive position.”

The report mentions a number of successful initiatives already in use that are increasing productivity and opening up access to expensive research assets. For example, Kit-Catalogue, a searchable online database of publically bookable equipment, developed by Loughborough University and subsequently taken in-house by Jisc, allows universities to pool their resources to create high technological capabilities.

Martin continues:

“What’s interesting is that some of the most successful shared services have not always been thought of as such. Jisc’s role in providing the Janet network which provides an internet connection for UK education and research institutions, now over 30 years old, probably makes it the first true example of shared services in UK HE. Universities and colleges all around the UK are reliant on this world class infrastructure.

We see shared services as vital for the future of HE and will look to review and refine our offer to support everyone in the sector. We look forward to working with the project team and the Efficiency Exchange to progress the recommendations.”

Jisc is actively looking to support this agenda, making it easier for universities to benefit from shared infrastructure. Last year Jisc launched the UK’s first shared data centre for education and research, which is helping to lower the operational costs and increase collaboration between some of the UK’s leading research institutions.

We believe there is significant potential from taking a shared approach to new developments and work is already underway, including a business intelligence tool, developed in conjunction with HESA, that will bring together data from all UK universities, and our brokerage work on supercomputing which makes £60m of publicly funded facilities and expertise available under a standard contractual template.

The report follows a review from earlier this year led by Professor Sir Ian Diamond, on ‘Efficiency, effectiveness and value for money’ in UK HE, which highlighted shared services as ‘critical’ in improving quality and lowering costs. It was written by Dr Andrew Rothwell, director of MBA programmes, and Ian Herbert, deputy director of the centre of global sourcing and services, programme director (Singapore) and senior lecturer in accounting and financial management, both at the school of business and economics, Loughborough University.