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Realising your institution’s goals - Getting to grips with Strategic Finance

30 Jan 2019 | Melvyn Keen With strategic decision-making and strategic finance being inseparable bedfellows, Melvyn Keen, programme director of Advance HE’s Strategic Finance Programme explains the importance of demystifying finance for senior leaders. 

After working for Price Waterhouse, Andersen Consulting and as Interim Finance Director at the University of Cambridge, Melvyn moved to Middlesex University, first as Director of Finance, becoming Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Chief Executive.

Strategic finance: More than a process centre

Few would argue that strategic finance is not at the heart of achieving the long-term goals and ambitions of any organisation or business unit. A recent poll of VCs highlighted that the financial viability of their institution is their most important consideration. 

And yet, finance is often perceived as something of a mystery – perhaps even unwelcome detail to be dealt with by someone else. However, it’s clear that the finance function of any organisation is much more than a process centre, to my mind it’s a key player - arguably the key player - in decision-making and value creation. That’s no less the case in universities. 

At the same time, it would be naive not to acknowledge that the language, the processes and even the numbers can be intimidating and a barrier to good engagement between the strategic decision makers and the finance experts. 

It follows that a clear understanding of the figures is crucial to good strategic decision-making. Senior leaders need to understand how their institution’s finances stack up and how sustainable they are in order to plan, grow and strengthen. 

Helping senior leaders and managers getting to grips with financial knowledge is precisely why we developed the Strategic Finance Programme.

Getting to grips with strategic finance

So what can you expect if you join the programme? Through a good balance of workshops, talks, case studies and of course conversation, we look at - and, more importantly, explain - sustainability through surpluses, cash generated from those surpluses, levels of borrowing, sources of capital funding and other measures. We explain how reserves are accumulated, what they represent and what the impact of large pension deficits in the sector, and beyond, might be.

Once you understand what contributes to financial sustainability and how these measures relate to each other, the next step is to develop a better understanding of the impact of strategic decisions on an institution’s finances. The programme looks at some simple financial decision-making tools to assess resource planning and capital investments.

This programme could usefully be a mandatory requirement for every senior manager. Decision making would be more collaborative, informed and, consequently, more effective."

- Former participant, Strategic Finance programme


As a strategic decision maker, you need to understand how much your institution can borrow, if it needs to, where from and what the implications could be. We take a look at the different types of borrowing out there, how you judge if an institution can afford to borrow and what banks and the funding bodies are looking at when assessing that affordability.

Building senior managers’ financial and legal literacy is critical if they are to operate confidently in higher education’s complex area of financial resourcing. And we know that participants find this programme extremely useful in helping them to contribute to their institutions achieving their strategic ambitions.

The Strategic Finance Programme is for senior executive leaders who are looking to demystify the complexities of university finances. Previous attendees of the programme have included deputy vice-chancellors, pro-vice-chancellors, deans, heads of school and professional service departments and directors.

The programme takes place over two, two-day modules with additional coaching and online learning. Find out more and book a place here: Strategic Finance Programme

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