Impact of the Budget on higher education

Savings needed? No need to think about it, just cut the administration.

John Denham has written to HEFCE on the impact of the Budget.

This is a significant letter from the Secretary of State but it doesn’t quite say what the Guardian is reporting. The paper’s headline states: “Universities told to cut admin costs, not teaching or research”. This isn’t precisely the message but the sentiments are there:

Ministers have calmed fears that universities will be asked to axe thousands of academic jobs and make savings on teaching and research. Denham460x276
Letters from the universities secretary, John Denham, to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) and the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) confirm that savings should be made in administration costs, rather than the core university business of teaching and research.

“I am confident that we can find efficiency savings whilst protecting the quality of teaching and research,” he wrote.

Savings should come from programmes that “do not directly contribute to the frontline delivery of teaching and research”, he added.

The important point here is that, having determined that universities have to make significant savings it really isn’t the job of the Secretary of State to tell institutions how to prioritise their spending. Of course institutions will not seek to undermine quality of teaching and research. But the idea that there is this huge unnecessary raft of administration from which savings can easily be made, that this will have no effect on quality and also that that somehow administrators are dispensable is simplistic and thoroughly misguided.

So, universities will find their own ways to make the savings required and will, it is to be hoped, aim to do so in a measured and sensible way. But this kind of advice is not hugely helpful.

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Debating the Future of Higher Education

via The Debate on the Future of Higher Education

In a speech at the end of February, John Denham announced his intention to develop a framework for Higher Education over the next ten to fifteen years. He said:

The world is evolving very quickly and we must be able to unlock British talent and support economic growth through innovation as never before. We need to decide what a world-class HE system of the future should look like, what it should seek to achieve, and establish the current barriers to its development. As I have said previously, I want to do this before we initiate the review of undergraduate fees next year.

As part of this process I am inviting a number of individuals and organisations to make contributions. Not to write government policy but to help inform it and – equally important – to stimulate debate and discussion in the sector.

These contributions have been delivered to the Secretary of State and are now available.

Interestingly there is also a blog on the future of higher education intended to facilitate discussion on each of the themes. It is early days yet (very few comments at time of writing) but a commendable approach from DIUS to engage the community.

The contributions can be found here.

    A new vision for HE?

    A wide-ranging speech by the Minister, John Denham, seems to have been received in a rather low key way in the UK.

    It does get some coverage in the Guardian and the Chronicle is on the case.

    Denham looked to be indicating a fairly wide ranging review prior to the fees review next year:

    We need to decide what a world-class HE system of the future should look like, what it should seek to achieve, and establish the current barriers to its development. As I have said previously, I want to do this before we initiate the review of undergraduate variable fees next year. But let me suggest what, at the end of the process, the prize should be. Universities have told me two things about their success. Firstly, that success depends on our, the government’s, respect for your leadership and autonomy. But, secondly, that you exercise that autonomy within the framework of aspiration, incentives and support set by government and the Funding Council. We have to get both right – respect for your autonomy, and the framework within which we expect you to work. And we have to get it right for the long-term.

    So, at the end of this process, we should aim to produce together a 10 to 15 year framework for the expansion and development of higher education. One that sets out what universities should aspire to achieve. And one that is clear about the role of government.

    * A framework to help us ensure that Higher Education in this country meets the growing demands upon it for research, teaching, international cooperation, economic development and cultural influence in the 21st century.
    * A framework that provides a reference point for future policy decisions, including decisions about funding and other priorities.
    * And a framework that enables progress to be measured in an objective and transparent way.

    As part of this process I am inviting a number of individuals and organisations to make contributions. Not to write government policy but to help inform it and – equally important – to stimulate debate and discussion in the sector. I will be announcing several work streams today; others in the coming weeks.

    The first areas of work seem to involve IP and the economy (involving a VC), student experience and how universities are responding to changing student expectations (for some reason, not at all clear to me why, being led by the HE Academy) and internationalisation (led by Drummond Bone from Liverpool). Other areas and individuals are identified too.

    These are all important and valuable areas for further work. And, overall, it is a really positive speech about the quality of UK HE. However, it is not entirely clear to me from the speech what the new framework is into which they are intended to fit. Is this a major new development or is it just a toe in the water? Guess we will find out as other elements are launched in the next few weeks.