Working in a Changing Higher Education Sector
“I am taking this opportunity to talk you through the way in which the University is operating and how we are developing a path ahead to ensure that Leicester remains at the forefront of higher education in the UK.
One of the key things we have achieved is being a top twenty university. No league table produced this academic year has ranked Leicester outside of the top 20 institutions. This is all down to the work of the whole team.
We also continue to win awards, for example ‘Arts in the Village’ at the CUBO awards and the Library staff winning the Outstanding Library Team award at the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards. We are also the only institution to have won six consecutive awards from the THE, a fact of which we should all be very proud.
In all the years I have been working in Higher Education, I have never seen the sector change quite as dramatically as this year. We are having to contend with:
- The introduction of higher fees, although the University has brought in a range of scholarships and bursaries to support students.
- Cuts to teaching funding (9%) and research funding (5%) from HEFCE.
- Private providers entering the higher education marketplace.
- Student number controls - and universities will be competing for the narrow pool of AAB students.
The Social and Financial Context
We have been prudent in our financial planning for the current academic year, but we are likely to achieve an operating surplus of around 2%. This is the absolute minimum we need to achieve if we are to continue to grow as an organisation.
The surplus in 2011/12 enabled us to:
- Release some new posts into departments with growing student numbers.
- Support additional investment in the IT Plan.
- Support additional cash generation for future capital investment.
Through all of these challenges we have to keep on planning for the future whilst being flexible in order to adapt to the changing environment.
As an institution we are aiming to grow our surplus year on year in order to achieve over £16m (or 5% of income) by 2015/16. This is realistic and something we need to achieve in order to support the academic mission and student experience of the University.
There are significant uncertainties surrounding the recruitment of Home/EU undergraduate (UG) students and related Government policies.
There has been a 10% drop in H/EU applications with the level of first choice acceptances also down. Similarly applications from overseas students are also down by 10%, mainly due to the UK Border Agency’s changes to visa regulations. We are, however, expecting to see overseas student numbers stabilise and postgraduate taught student numbers are predicted to rise by 32% and postgraduate research students to rise by 7.2%.
We remain committed to enhancing the student experience and to delivering teaching and research to the highest standard. In order to achieve this we are making significant contingencies to safeguard against possible loss of income, investigating new streams of income and new ways of working. The post freeze is part of this activity as we ensure that we are in control of our destiny. There have been some exceptions during the post freeze to ensure the quality of our provision is maintained.
This is offering us an excellent opportunity to really look at the services we provide and look for ways to improve them from the user’s perspective. I have seen some really good examples of the work being undertaken in this area as it allows us to place our processes under genuine critical scrutiny. It really highlights how academic and administrative processes need to work together to develop and offer an even better experience for our students.
Planning for the Future
The HEFCE teaching grant for Arts, Humanities and Law and Social Science has been removed for undergraduate study and reduced for others. HEFCE grants are expected to fall by 80% to 2015/16 and the research grant from HEFCE is expected to fall from next year with the removal of funding for 2* research. Another challenge is the pressure on Distance Learning in the face of the enduring financial crisis.
There are some positive factors to look forward to, including the change to allow us to recruit as many ABB students as possible for the Autumn entry in 2013. We need to recruit students at the highest grades while staying true to our aims around widening participation and access.
In order to continue to say that we are a leading research and teaching university, emphasising the synergy between the two, we need to grow our research income beyond £60m. It is going to be tough but we are well placed to deal with these challenges.
We are investing an additional £300k in a new PGR scholarship scheme for the next academic year.
There will be a £193K investment in the Careers Service to support internships and employability activities which are integral to the continued investment in the student experience. We need to generate dynamic interactions between the Careers Service and the rest of the University to ensure the employability of our graduates.
An additional £60k is being invested in the Library.
We are committed to building the new Management Training Centre at what was College Hall. This project will offer an opportunity for us to generate income in a new way. The planned cost of this development is £17m.
Work on the new medical building on the corner of Lancaster Road is set to begin in 2013; the budget for that project is £35m. This building will bring together colleagues from across the College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology and hopefully there will be an opportunity to use the facilities for other teaching activities.
The roof of the Engineering Building is in need of repair for some time so we are investing £13m in restoring it, in accordance with its Grade 2* listing requirements.
In order to achieve all of these projects, and more, we are going to have to fundraise. The Cardiovascular Research Centre appeal coordinated by the Strategic Fundraising Committee and the Development and Alumni Office has raised £6m. Fundraising has to be at the heart of future income generation.
As a University we will need to:
- Maintain the quality of our provision.
- Continue to improve the Estate.
- Ensure our surplus is improved.
- Build in sufficient contingencies.
- Continue to fundraise.
- Develop new collaborative links.
I am confident that with our team of staff we can achieve all of these things and continue to build on our success."