Fostering efficiency and innovation holds the key to our universities’ success

Since September 2010, I have been chair of Universities UK’s efficiency and modernisation task group, and last year we published the final report of our findings.

Universities already have a strong record in improving their efficiency and effectiveness. Indeed, the UK’s facilities for teaching, learning and research are rightly seen as world-class performers here –  when compared to other higher education sectors – and the work of task group looked to build on these great foundations.

However, as I argued at the Efficiency in Higher Education conference last year, we knew we couldn’t afford to stand still.

Firstly, we faced difficult financial times with pressures on public finances. And secondly, there was a political imperative for universities to be making efficiency savings at a time when a new fee regime was being introduced in England. Both of these points still stand today – the funding environment remains uncertain in the UK and the government continues to keep a watchful eye on what we are doing for students now that we have moved to the new system of teaching funding. In addition, this new system also means that there is more pressure than ever before from our students to deliver better services and better value for money.

Thankfully, we are not a sector that likes to stand still, and a great deal has happened since last year. Considerable progress is being made in taking forward the recommendations in our report. And beyond this, we see evidence all around of a sector taking its responsibilities seriously. Today I will be speaking at the Unlocking Learning conference hosted by the Leadership Foundation – where I’m sure I will hear of examples of how the dedicated professionals in our institutions are exploring new ways to meet these challenges. Indeed, Universities UK is taking the lead in a number of areas.

One of the projects that Universities UK is leading, with its partners JISC, is the development of an ‘efficiency hub’, thanks in large part to the support of the Innovation and Transformation Fund. This will facilitate the exchange of ideas about how the sector can transform its offering through efficiency and innovation measures, as well as share success stories. It will also provide development opportunities for university professionals wishing to engage in this area. We have seen a similar approach being used successfully in other parts of the sector. The Sustainability Exchange is a good example, and we hope to replicate such successes in the sphere of efficiency and innovation.

The hub will not only draw on experience from within universities, but also from other sectors which have had to take similar steps, such as local authorities in England and Wales.

In procurement, Professor Nick Petford, Vice Chancellor at the University of Northampton, will be chairing our new high-level strategy group Procurement UK. One-third of our budgets are spent on goods and services, so the potential ‘win’ for making a difference here is staggering.

We are also working on a benchmarking project, which will give university colleagues the data that they need to help make the case for change at their institutions.

More is planned for 2013 with the launch of a new progress report in March and a conference taking place around the same time. Meantime, I invite you to join in the conversation about what you would like to see us develop further – at today’s event, via Twitter #EfficiencyInnovation, #lfheconf12 and also via our online survey.

Professor Ian Diamond

About Professor Ian Diamond

Principal and Vice-Chancellor at University of Aberdeen
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