Collaboration and shared services in UK higher education: potential and possibilities

2017-03-17T09:49:34Z (GMT) by Ian Herbert Andrew Rothwell
The landscape of UK higher education is changing. The pressure of domestic austerity measures and the marketisation and digitisation of higher education, together with the need to compete in global markets, is forcing institutions to review all aspects of delivery efficiency and effectiveness for services such as student support, registry, catering, accommodation, finance, HR, IT and procurement. • Support activities are being ‘externalised’ and reconfigured as ‘services to customers’. Service level agreements are based on a range of key performance measures aimed at satisfying a wide variety of stakeholder groupings. As a consequence, managers are being challenged to redefine both their role and value proposition against best practice in the higher education sector and the wider public and private sectors of the economy. • Collaboration between internal departments and with other institutions is regarded as natural. There are opportunities to apply new business models, such as shared services, which can both catalyse the transformation journey and provide a means to effect change. The higher education sector already has many successful examples of shared services, but the scale and scope of these has tended to stay ‘below the radar’. There is significant potential for a range of collaborative and sharing ventures, especially in strategic sourcing, sharing campus-based facilities and even offshoring. • Best practice and benchmarking. Even without actually sharing facilities, there are many opportunities for the new quasi-commercial service centres to share best practice with other institutions and the private sector in the pursuit of world class performance levels. As many support activities become generic, tradable, commodities, managers can no longer hide behind the defence of ‘It doesn’t apply to us; we’re different!’. • There are significant staffing implications. New end-to-end process working will routinize many tasks that are presently organised around personal roles. Computer-based workflow allocation and monitoring will squeeze the ranks of middle management and cause a polarisation of expertise, with a small number of highly skilled system design experts at the top and the bulk of employees in operational positions, performing routinized, process-based tasks, at the bottom.