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“Most vice-chancellors expect the shape of the higher education system to change substantially over the coming years."


PA Consulting Group launches its annual survey of UK vice chancellors on the outlook for universities

30 June 2011

Universities plan to reduce their involvement with government
PA Consulting Group launches its annual survey of UK vice chancellors on the outlook for universities

University leaders are responding to the new world of higher education by developing their own business strategies, with over a third planning to reduce their involvement with government regulated teaching and research, according to a PA Consulting Group survey of UK university vice chancellors. The survey was sent to 165 institution heads, of whom 65 (nearly 40 per cent) responded. The PA report provides a timely perspective on likely university responses to the Government’s latest White Paper on Higher Education, also published this week.

Although the majority of universities expect government policies and funding to remain dominant factors in their planning, a substantial minority of 33 per cent are looking to minimise their dependence on government-controlled activities. Two institutions said they were actively considering opting out of the publicly-regulated higher education system.

Paul Woodgates, higher education expert at PA Consulting Group says: “Most vice-chancellors expect the shape of the higher education system to change substantially over the coming years.

“We are beginning to see changes in the sector that reflect the unfolding of comprehensive, long-term institutional strategies and not just reactions to current events. Many universities are looking to reduce their dependence on government funding and a few to break away altogether, demonstrating what a time of opportunity this is for those universities willing to look beyond traditional, government-controlled teaching and research. For those willing to innovate, the future is exciting.”

Other headline findings from the survey:

Optimism for longer term – less concern about failures
Over 60 per cent of vice chancellors believe that their institutions will emerge from the coming changes ‘bigger and stronger than today’ and only 11 per cent envisage being smaller and more specialised. The survey shows that expectations for the sector in general are becoming more positive: last year over 75 per cent expected failures and rationalisation while this year that had reduced to 55 per cent.  

Focusing on growth
In contrast to last year, when two thirds of respondents were preparing for a period of retrenchment and falling enrolments, 50 per cent of universities now say they are moving forward with strategies for growth, with only 15 per cent saying that their institution’s strategies are based around consolidation and cost-reduction.

Uncertainties and risks ahead
Some are still distinctly nervous, with around 17 per cent concerned that shortages of investment funds and/or staff capacity and skills will seriously constrain their future plans. Over 30 per cent are expecting the introduction of higher undergraduate fees to lead to a significant reduction in student demand. 

Most admired universities
The universities most admired for their leadership and innovation in response to changing demands and opportunities were Warwick University (11 nominations of 65), followed by Exeter (9), Nottingham (8), Loughborough (7) and UCL (6). Maastricht University was also nominated as an example of an overseas institution responding effectively to changes in UK funding and policy.

Mike Boxall, higher education expert at PA Consulting Group, comments: “All universities recognise - and are working on - the need to rethink their business in response to the marketisation of higher education, which the White Paper further confirms. The journey towards being fit for the future started, for many if not all universities, some years ago. They are however in widely differing places along that journey.

“Vice chancellors are under no illusions that diversification into new markets and new business partnerships will be any kind of panacea, and recognise the risks and uncertainties involved. The vision and confidence of institutional leadership will determine the winners and losers in the new world of higher education.”

For more information or a copy of the survey visit here.

Notes to the editor

About the survey
The research took place in May 2011 via a combination of paper-based and e-survey methods, and represents the views of nearly 40 per cent of university heads.  The survey was sent to 165 vice-chancellors or other heads of all UK higher education institutions and 65 responded.  It was distributed across all sizes of institutions and across the sector mission groups.

About PA Consulting Group
PA Consulting Group is a leading management and IT consulting and technology firm. Independent and employee-owned, we operate globally in more than 30 countries and transform the performance of major organisations in both the private and public sectors.

From initial idea generation and strategy development through to detailed implementation, we deliver significant and tangible results. We have outstanding technology development capability; a unique breadth of skills from strategy to performance improvement, from HR to IT; and strong expertise in communications, media and entertainment, defence, energy, financial services, government and public services, healthcare, international development, manufacturing, transportation and logistics, and water.

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