Last year, PA Consulting Group undertook a survey of higher education (HE) institution heads. This survey was undertaken during a period of paralysing uncertainties for UK universities and the mood of sector leaders then was one of pessimism for the sector as a whole and retrenchment for their own institutions.
One year on, it is clear that the future for university funding and the wider
competitive environment for students and research will be fundamentally different from any previous experiences. How are vice-chancellors reacting to this ‘Looking Glass’ world in which all past certainties have been turned on their heads?
The 2011 vice-chancellor's survey has generated considerable media interest. To read a selection of the articles please click here or contact us now to receive a full copy of our 2011 survey.
While the survey responses were as diverse as the institutions represented, there was a broadly positive underlying tone to the messages being conveyed. The majority of institutions are taking positive action in response to the changing HE environment.
Most are actively seeking to reshape and reposition their operations, by developing new sources of revenue and entering into new business relationships. However, 37% of institutions are still focused on reducing costs and rationalising their internal operations and academic portfolios.
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. Continuing uncertainties over the direction and impact of Government policies on students, research and competition remain the principal concern for many.
The rapid transition to a more diverse, competitive and volatile world demands that all universities have very clearly-focused market strategies, backed by agile and efficient organisational capabilities. This need is clearly recognised by most vice-chancellors, although a surprising 25% agreed strongly with a statement that (in ten years’ time) “we will be much the same as today”.
The survey also showed that all universities recognise and are working on the imperatives to reform themselves and their business in response to the inexorable commercialisation of higher education. This is a journey that started, for many if not all universities, some years ago. They are however at widely differing stages on that journey.
The great majority of universities are quietly confident that they have the vision, opportunities and capacity to succeed in the new environment, evidenced by 60% envisaging that their long-term outlook is to be ”bigger and stronger than today, with a more diverse portfolio”.
There is nonetheless a short ‘tail’ of distinctly nervous institutions whose leaders are seriously worried about their capacity to adapt. Even though only two of these admitted to fears that they might not be here in ten years’ time, the risks to the sustainability of some others are clearly real.
Based on the survey responses, a third group of institutions is also emerging: those who are feeling energised by the opportunities they see and are prioritising new business development outside traditional, government-controlled teaching and research areas.
There is no difference in the mix of institutional types in each of these three loose categories. It is the vision and confidence of an institution’s leadership, not the institution’s type, that will determine the winners and losers in the new world of HE.
To discuss the findings of the survey in the context or your organisation please, contact us now.
The "Red Queen" image, reproduced by kind permission of Macmillan Children's Books, is taken from "Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there" by Lewis Carroll. © 1872 Macmillan and Co.