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

5 August 2010
University vice-chancellors predict failures and restructurings, but few expect their institution to be affected - is the sector prepared?

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

The £24 billion UK university sector is bracing itself for deep cuts in its public funding and the great majority of vice-chancellors (74 per cent) expect forthcoming funding cuts and competitive pressures will lead to the failure and disappearance of some higher education institutions. However, almost none expect their own institutions to be involved in such changes, according to PA Consulting Group’s survey of UK university vice chancellors.
Is the sector actually prepared for a period of retrenchment, or are vice-chancellors putting a brave face on their fears?

Paul Woodgates, education expert, explains the implications of the survey: “Given the widespread prediction of significant structural changes in the organisation of higher education, it might be expected that more institutions would anticipate being involved in these changes. But relatively few did so.

“While this may imply that those predictions have been greatly exaggerated, our concern would be if it reflects a sector in which universities are less well prepared than they are saying for the fundamental changes to their whole way of working. Universities must act urgently to address these challenges; carrying on as before is simply not enough.”

The internal constraints - reforming working practices and staff cultures a top priority

The survey indicates that vice-chancellors think many of their staff are ill-prepared for the emerging funding and policy changes. While almost all responding vice-chancellors believe that their institutions have effective leadership and governance, with a clear view of the changing market conditions and what needs to be done to meet them – this confidence is not extended to their staff. Over 60% of respondents cited inability to move or change intransigent staff among their three greatest internal constraints, and a similar proportion put leading changes in staff cultures and working practices among their top priorities for internal reform.

Where are the opportunities for growth?

While publicly-funded teaching and research provision is expected to shrink in the face of reduced spending (two thirds of respondents felt this probable or very likely), many vice-chancellors remain optimistic that growth in these areas will still be found. The most favoured opportunity areas were continuing professional development, consultancy, research-based services and on-line and virtual learning provision, and over two thirds (68%) of the responding institutions are planning to develop their international presence.

Mike Boxall, education expert, says: “Universities must see the anticipated changes to the policy and funding environment as an opportunity. This is the time for university leadership teams to push through organisational and cultural changes. A changing environment where universities are responding to new rules for survival is no place for intransigent staff or outdated business processes.”

The research took place in June 2010 via an e-survey and represents the views of 28 per cent of university heads.  The survey was sent to every one of the 155 vice-chancellors or other heads of all UK higher education institutions and 43 responded.  It was distributed across all sizes of institutions and across the sector mission groups.

Request a copy of the survey.


Notes to editors

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.

Contact the education team

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