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Government policies are the greatest threat for universities, according to higher education leaders

7 July 2014

PA Consulting Group launches the results of its sixth annual survey of higher education leaders

Two thirds of higher education leaders cite government policies as the biggest threat to their future success, according to PA Consulting Group’s latest survey of higher education leaders.  The possibility of UK withdrawal from the EU was flagged as a major risk and universities also expressed concern about future political falling-out with China.

There was little expectation of improvements after the forthcoming General Election, with less than 10 percent thinking it very likely that reform of the higher education system would feature as a major priority for any of the political parties. Some 70 percent of vice-chancellors expect any future government to postpone early decisions about funding or regulation, predicting another independent review instead. 

Paul Woodgates, higher education expert, PA Consulting Group says: “Vice-chancellors feel strongly that government policies and interventions, such as teacher training and overseas student visa controls, represent the greatest risk and constraint to their success.  They see government as forcing them to become more competitive in an open market, while restraining their responses to this market.

“Universities are suddenly having to adapt their business strategies much faster than their cultures and governance models can cope with, creating a sense of grievance from universities towards government. This is a remarkable change, as only a few years ago universities looked to government for strategic leadership.”  

Other key findings:

Increasing dependence on global markets creates ‘Black Swan’ vulnerabilities to systemic shocks.  The possibility of UK withdrawal from the EU was flagged as a major and hugely damaging risk by a number of vice-chancellors. There was also concern about future political falling-out with China and the risk of the Chinese government restricting the flow of students to the UK and/or withdraw from UK academic partnerships.

Hopes are still pinned on campus. While recognising the growth potential from new markets, such as online and professional programmes, 80 percent of vice-chancellors appear to be pinning their hopes on growing traditional, on-campus taught degree programmes.

Failures are still expected. 40 percent of vice-chancellors think a significant number of institutional failures is likely, and more than half expect to see significant rationalisation through mergers and take-overs.

Mike Boxall, higher education expert, PA Consulting Group says:  “Overall, our survey suggests that vice-chancellors are confident in their institutions’ ability to withstand market uncertainties and turbulence. But is their confidence misplaced? They fear for other universities’ survival as markets shrink and become more competitive, while seeming to overlook the fact that they rely on the exact same markets and face the same risks.”


About the survey

This is PA’s sixth annual survey of higher education leaders.Fifty responses were received, representing around one-third of leaders of universities, HE institutions and other substantial providers of higher education.

Contact the government and public sector team

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