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"PA Consulting has published their 'Life Beyond the Looking Glass' report which summarises and analyses the results of their May 2011 Vice-Chancellor survey . The survey is in a very readable format and so is well worth a read.”

matt sisson, editor, bufdg

Glass half full

Matt Sisson
British Universities Finance Directors Group
7 July 2011


PA Consulting has published their 'Life Beyond the Looking Glass' report which summarises and analyses the results of their May 2011 Vice-Chancellor survey (which was before the publication of the HE White Paper). This is a follow-on to last year's 'Universities Through the Looking Glass' publication, with broadly the same questions asked but to a slightly larger group of V-Cs (165 HEIs). There was a 40% response rate (65 HEIs), well-distributed across the sector both by institution size and mission group. The report is quite short, in a very readable format and so is well worth a read - but I will try to cover the main points here.

  • It seems that V-Cs are in general optimistic, or at least more optimistic than last year: over 60% believe that their HEIs will emerge 'bigger and stronger than today' and 'only 55%' foreseeing 'a number of institutional failures and bankruptcies' (including 2 in their own HEIs). A 'majority' is reported to believe that their institution is well placed to face the challenges ahead.

  • A third of V-Cs said that they are looking to minimise their dependence on government-controlled activities, with a much-publicised two V-Cs reporting that they are actively considering opting out of the publicly-regulated HE system.

  • With regard to new models of HE: 75% expect to see substantial growth in multi-institutional partnerships, alliances and networks; 83% expect the emergence of new types of HE providers; and 80% expect the emergence of a 'super league of strong institutions'.

  • With regard to higher tuition fees, 30% of V-Cs expect a significant reduction in overall demand, and 'almost none' expect high levels of price sensitivity amongst applicants. 'Most' expect the home/EU market to become more discriminating between perceptions of quality and value, which in turn is expected to lead to "big swings in demand between subjects, institutions and perhaps regions". Around 10% of V-Cs surveyed are worried that they may not be able to substitute fee income for lost teaching grants, or that they risk "becoming locked-in to declining and/or unprofitable undergraduate markets".

I'll finish with a new question where respondents were asked to nominate the HEI they "most admired for its leadership and innovation in response to changing demands and opportunities". The results were: Warwick first, followed by Exeter, Nottingham, Loughborough and UCL; but there was one interesting nomination: the University of Maastricht, which seems to pop up regularly in Digest news. The respondent who made the nomination said "Maastricht is the only institution that has really responded to changes in UK policy and student finance - they have gone after our market really aggressively: good for them!".

Reproduced by kind permission of Matt Sisson, BUFDG, editor of the BUFDG Weekly Digest.

You can contact us now or visit our website here to find out how we can help you identify the right incentives to deliver public benefits in higher education.

You can read the full article here.

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