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Supporting efficiency and effectiveness

Supporting efficiency and effectiveness

The UK higher education sector is a significant success when measured by any criteria for research, student experience and contribution to the economy, and is a major social and economic asset. Strong leadership at all levels plays a key part in ensuring the continuation of that success, alongside effective management practice and efficient use of resources.

Acknowledging the central role of leadership in driving change, in 2012, together with Hefce, we initiated a £1m, UK-wide Innovation and Transformation Fund (ITF) to progress key themes of the first ‘Diamond Report’ on efficiency in higher education, including procurement, shared services (HR, workload allocation model, benchmarking), new digital pedagogies and digital student services. Nine projects were funded and have now concluded. 

Sir Ian Diamond was invited by BIS to lead a second phase of work on efficiency and effectiveness in higher education early in 2014, looking particularly at organisational change and development, the higher education workforce, estates and research assets, open data and evidencing efficiency. In 2014-15, further joint investment totalling £500,000 is supporting the sharing of existing effective practice particularly in the leadership, management and development of the higher education workforce. Working in partnership with UUK, UCEA, UHR, Hefce and GuildHE, the Leadership Foundation is leading development of:

  • Nine short projects to pilot and showcase practice in workforce change and business improvement.
  • Research on academic prestige and motivation in reward, recognition and organisational development practice, through interviews with senior leaders.
  • Case studies, with impact data, of workforce change, including: performance management and enhancement, people development, new conditions of employment and statute change, and restructuring.
  • The Efficiency Exchange, in partnership with UUK, to provide a critical mass of resources and bring together communities of practice around efficiency and effectiveness themes.
  • Contribution to the Open Data project being led by UUK.
  • Publication, with UCEA and UHR, of collected evidence and case studies of the HE workforce as a supplement to the UUK report to BIS (February 2015) and contributions to the ongoing ‘Diamond 2’ agenda.
  • A range of knowledge sharing and dissemination activities to spread outputs and outcomes of the above.

A key to the Innovation and Transformation Fund is in unlocking and making best use of good practice.

Visit the Efficiency Exchange About Us section to subscribe to regular updates and blog posts on activity, sector knowledge, project outputs and outcomes, to contribute your own resources and to engage in webinars and communities of practice on all aspects of efficiency and effectiveness in higher education.

ITF 2012 Phase 1

All the ITF first phase projects highlighted the importance of generating shared understandings and perspectives amongst collaborating institutions. Even where process is the initial focus, it is the cultural and behavioural aspects of change, particularly in working practices and motivation, that are at the heart of transformation and remain difficult to tackle. This first phase of projects demonstrates that:

  • Innovative projects take longer than anticipated: iterative approaches to innovation lead to changes in plans and directions; pro bono contributions from partners can be derailed by internal pressures; commissioning or procuring third party services adds complexity and time; engagement with a wide range of stakeholders adds breadth and depth, but also takes longer than 'doing it yourself'
  • Sector diversity can make transferability difficult; competition v. collaboration tensions also cause barriers to development of shared services or even knowledge sharing; no one size fits all
  • Pace and urgency for change can be difficult to bring about when there is no immediate and/or critical issue
  • Some HEIs are reluctant to invest even in subsidised subscriptions or other payments for shared services; a compelling vision of the future and strong business cases are needed to influence participation

The successful projects from 2012 are:

Building Human Resource Capacity and Collaboration in UK Students’ Unions
NUS Students’ Union Charitable Services
Many unions don’t adopt a strategic approach to Human Resource Management and even unions with well-developed HR functions could be more effective and make efficiencies through greater collaboration and partnerships. This research concluded there was an overwhelming agreement from students’ unions that NUS should support unions to build HR capacity through both free and paid for services. 

Delivering efficiency through effective benchmarking
Universities UK
This project focused on establishing a benchmarking framework for Higher Education with, at its core, the development of a common operational cost benchmarking taxonomy, rather than a sector-wide benchmarking service as originally envisaged. To facilitate greater coordination at sector level, UUK is working closely with HESA, AMHEC, the University of London and pilot HEIs to help create the conditions for development of a future Higher Education benchmarking service, which can use the taxonomy. 

The Efficiency Exchange
Universities UK
The Efficiency Exchange was a two-year project which set out to help higher education professionals discover and share ideas, good practice and resources to advance efficiency and transformation within their institutions. The project goals were to develop a web-based resource that would help professionals to discover and share learning and case studies, provide intelligence on innovative developments in efficiency, engage with the sector to guide the development of the service, stimulate knowledge sharing in communities of practice, and support the creation of content.

Open Course in Technology Enhanced Learning (OCTEL)
Association for Learning Technology (ALT)
The Innovation and Transformation Fund set out to address four key challenges for funded projects, around transition and change, momentum of strategic challenges, the academic business of the sector and unlocking knowledge. Further, there was an emphasis on collaboration and effective transformational change. As this report shows, as a project ocTEL has worked to meet these objectives. 

Strategic sourcing in UK HEIs: Assessing the Options
University of the West of England, Bristol
This report outlines the findings of a research study investigating the sourcing strategies and practices of UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). The project delivered a suite of tools and practical guidance on outsourcing decisions throughout the lifecycle from concept and business case to contract management.

The Higher Education Procurement Academy
British Universities Finance Directors Group (Bufdg)
This project has delivered a sustainable programme and support structure for procurement professionals in higher education and a resource that is freely available to colleagues working in procurement at all levels in Higher Education.

Procurement Maturity Assessments (PMA) for all English HEIs
Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium (SUPC)
The PMA is an independent detailed assessment of an institution’s procurement that provides a bespoke action plan for improvement, a baseline to measure improvements as well as a benchmark with similar institutions. These project aims were to have at least 90% of English HEIs undertake a PMA within the first year and thereafter at least 70% of these HEIs will undertake an annual re-assessment.

Student Advisory Model (SAM)
Keele University
The Student Advisory Model (SAM) was a project originally conceptualised to provide a virtual one-stop-shop student support and advisory service for Higher Education students.

A Transferrable Model for Academic Workload Management and TRAC Reporting
University of the West of England, Bristol
The aims of the project as set out in the original proposal were: ‘to make available to the sector a transferrable model for the allocation and management of academic staff time across the full range of activities. The model will also generate data required for TRAC monitoring purposes’.

ITF 2014 Phase 2

The successful projects from 2014 are:

Are Students at the Heart of our Processes?
University of Leicester
The University of Leicester is transforming the administrative processes surrounding the student journey, making significant progress in improving service delivery using Systems Thinking. We have more to do, particularly in bringing senior managers closer to the student experience. We recognise that this is a challenge across the sector. This project will test whether bringing senior managers closer to the student creates a sense of urgency to make student-focussed change.

Academic Career Frameworks: Key to Change?
Bournemouth University
Bournemouth University (BU) introduced a new academic career framework in 2014 providing an opportunity for a case study based longitudinal study of the impact of changing a career framework on: (1) the strategic objectives of an HEI; (2) improving the efficiency and performance of an academic workforce; and (3) in supporting academic career development, talent and well-being.

Standards framework for academic leadership
University of Lincoln
This Schools Planning Framework project funded by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, seeks to explore the development of a practical application of a performance management tool, aimed at academic units. The report sets out the findings of the project as a case study based at the University of Lincoln.

Development of an academic intern scheme
University of Lincoln
At a time when the focus for all universities is firmly on the student experience and ultimately employability, this project, to develop a proposal for an academic intern scheme seeks to provide an innovative and inclusive way to expose postgraduate students to the wider academic skills, practices and processes whilst opening up an opportunity to see the workings of a Higher Education Institution at first hand. 

Evidencing quantifiable benefits for demand-led business process improvement
University of Strathclyde
The aims of this project were to: find a best practice approach to quantify the benefits of business improvement activities, quantify benefits throughout a typical project life-cycle for process redesign, gather, record and communicate information to allow for more accurate reporting of the impact of projects and finally, help inform decision making by ensuring institutions focus their efforts on the ‘right’ problem. 

Employee engagement-driven higher education process improvement
University of Hertfordshire
This project seeks to research, develop, and share a model for Higher Education process improvement that focuses on people, acknowledges their different perspectives and uses these to enhance capability.

(This report is no longer available)

Developing the next generation - Guidance and good practice in the development of early career researchers and academics
Brunel University London
This project transforms the understanding of how to develop readiness for academic and research leadership by harnessing the reflections and experiences of those who have made the journey. Research leaders from different universities and disciplines were invited through interview to look into their everyday experiences within research communities.

Human performance technology, a tool for higher education in the UK?
Bangor University
This project will pilot and review the Human Performance Technology (HPT) methodology for improving efficiency and effectiveness in a Higher Education setting. The tool incoporates three factors: Performance, Profile and Process.

Evaluation of participative process reviews
Oxford Brookes University
The aims of this project were to examine how the PPR workshop approach (and its tools) could be adapted and developed to benefit the wider Higher Education sector.

Creating value from open data
Universities UK
This project aimed to: raise awareness of opportunities and benefits of open data, explore the practical and strategic challenges of working with open data, develop a simple open data application as a demonstrator and set out a roadmap for future work. 

ITF 2016 Phase 3

The successful projects from 2016 are:

Funding for Updating Online Information Governance Materials
Edinburgh Napier University
To provide Universities in Scotland, and potentially across the UK, with updated online Information Governance training modules which they can use to provide staff members with an excellent grounding in Information Governance. This project will build on a previous LFHE-supported project. 

Leading Change Together: Managing cultural change across the HE workforce
The University of Northampton
To support HEIs in understanding the role that formal and informal leadership can play as a catalyst to change, and how institutional and personal leadership for change can be developed. 

Enhancing the Evidencing of Benefits and Efficiencies across the HE Sector

The University of Strathclyde
To support higher education leaders in evidencing the benefits of business process improvement, this project will further enhance the outcomes of a previous project supported by the Leadership Foundation.

Case Studies

As part of our work to support Efficiency Exchange activities, we have published a new series of case studies for higher education leaders and managers. The case studies look at critical change topics such as workforce change, performance management and statute change, new conditions of employment and restructuring.

The case studies are examples of real life projects that universities and higher education colleges have recently undertaken, and in some instances are still underway. The results of their activities provide candid explorations into what works in higher education change practice.

Please click on either the image or university name to download the case study. 

Durham University

Over the last 5-10 years several pre-1992 universities have embarked on an ongoing programme to modernise and refocus their HR practices. For many, the reform if the Model Statutes, which were imposed on pre-1992 universities by the privy council over 20 years ago, has been a crucial step in the change process. Durham University achieved this significant change within one academic year and, with it, a vast improvement in clarity, efficiency and effectiveness.
Find out more

Kingston University

A large scale university-wide change programme which modernised the entire academic role framework and promotional routes. A focus on rewarding academic excellence through clear academic expectations and career pathways. Includes revised academic structure, generic role profiles, introduces role of associate professor and sets robust progression criteria between lecturer and senior lecturer roles.
Find out more

University of Swansea

Cultural change driven through the performance of academic staff who are at the heart of the delivery of the university’s strategic aims. Recognise, incentivise and challenge performance through a range of inter-related and mutually supporting initiatives which include online professional development reviews, academic staff KPIs embedded into professional development reviews, head of college KPIs and academic career pathways.
Find out more

University of Leeds

A consistent, strategically connected and high quality approach to people management aligned with university values. The people management framework produces measurable and quantifiable performance data and results and builds on "valuing and developing all of our staff" (VADAOS), the objectives and principles which guide staff management and development activities in supporting the university’s strategic objectives and a strategic enabler for the achievement of academic excellence.
Find out more

University of Kent

Kent Hospitality is a highly regarded and profitable organisation with an excellent reputation for customer service. It has won many awards and achieved success through the development and training of its people and creation of a real commitment to service excellence.
Find out more

University of Birmingham

The Sustainable Excellence Programme supports the development of a high performance culture. It is a systematic approach of interconnected and integrated people management processes and initiatives which has made a real impact. Including reshaping academic units, the Birmingham Fellows programme, revised academic probation arrangements, a responsive academic and professorial promotions process and introduction of new performance review process.
Find out more

University of Cumbria

Severe financial challenges following merger in 2007/08. 2012/13 delivered an outstanding financial turnaround by focusing large-scale transformational change on the three areas of cost reduction, investment and process improvement.
Find out more


A powerful cultural shift through collaboration and extensive digitisation of all college systems and processes delivers an exceptional student experience as well as significant cost efficiencies. A new building and a new way of operation based on totally shared resources required a fundamental shift in employee engagement. Doing different things and doing them differently underpin this transformational change.
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Nottingham Trent University

Contribution to business efficiency through the development and implementation of a management of academic workloads planning tool. This has enabled additional initiatives and improvements to the student experience to be achieved without an associated increase in academic resources. Further benefits through an online system have significantly improved management reporting capabilities and workforce planning, including use of MAW data to inform transparent approach to costing return.
Find out more

What they say about the Innovation and Transformation Fund

"Universities have achieved a great deal, but we can do more by sharing best practice better. I am delighted to support this new fund as it offers the sector many opportunities."
Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor University of the West of England and Chair of the ITF Steering Group

"The twin challenges of innovation and efficiency are significant for every type of size of higher education institution and the fund set up by the Leadership Foundation and Hefce will help all to see new models, collaborations and ways of delivering better value at a critical time."
Andy Westwood, Chief Executive GUILDHE

"AHUA is delighted to support the ITF as a catalyst and assistance to creative and progressive projects that help provide meaningful innovation for higher education, particularly in the areas of efficiency and organisational transformation."
Alison Wild OBE, University Secretary and Deputy Chief Executive Liverpool John Moores University

"The report of the Efficiency and Modernisation Task Group provides a strategy for the sector to take action on efficiency and effectiveness, and gave renewed impetus to the efforts of institutions. As we move into the implementation phase, the ITF provides an excellent catalyst for capitalising on this momentum."
Professor Ian Diamond, Principal and Vice-Chancellor University of Aberdeen and Chair Efficiency and Modernisation Task Group

"An efficient and effective higher education system is in everybody’s interests. HEIs have already done much work to improve their operations and the Innovation and Transformation Fund encourages them to build on that work and to ensure a smooth transition to new funding arrangements. We are looking forward to supporting the Fund and to the benefits that will emerge from it."
Steve Egan, Deputy Chief Executive Hefce

"A unique opportunity for higher education institutions and partners to drive forward further innovation and change at a crucial stage of transition in the higher education sector."
Ewart Wooldridge CBE, former Chief Executive Leadership Foundation

"The Innovation and Transformation Fund will assist the sector to innovate and focus resources on students at a time of great change. The NUS is pleased to support this important initiative."
Matt Hyde, former Chief Executive National Union of Students