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PA Consulting on annual survey of UK Universities

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

University leaders are responding to the new world of higher education by developing their own business strategies, with over a third planning to reduce their involvement with government regulated teaching and research, according to a PA Consulting Group survey of UK university vice chancellors.

The survey was sent to 165 institution heads, of whom 65 (nearly 40 per cent) responded. The PA report provides a timely perspective on likely university responses to the Government's latest White Paper on Higher Education.

Although the majority of universities expect government policies and funding to remain dominant factors in their planning, a substantial minority of 33 per cent are looking to minimise their dependence on government-controlled activities. Two institutions said they were actively considering opting out of the publicly-regulated higher education system.

Paul Woodgates, higher education expert at PA Consulting Group says: "Most vice-chancellors expect the shape of the higher education system to change substantially over the coming years.

 "We are beginning to see changes in the sector that reflect the unfolding of comprehensive, long-term institutional strategies and not just reactions to current events. Many universities are looking to reduce their dependence on government funding and a few to break away altogether, demonstrating what a time of opportunity this is for those universities willing to look beyond traditional, government-controlled teaching and research. For those willing to innovate, the future is exciting."

Other headline findings from the survey:

Optimism for longer term — less concern about failures Over 60 per cent of vice chancellors believe that their institutions will emerge from the coming changes 'bigger and stronger than today' and only 11 per cent envisage being smaller and more specialised.

The survey shows that expectations for the sector in general are becoming more positive: last year over 75 per cent expected failures and rationalisation while this year that had reduced to 55 per cent.

Focus on growth - In contrast to last year, when two thirds of respondents were preparing for a period of retrenchment and falling enrolments, 50 per cent of universities now say they are moving forward with strategies for growth, with only 15 per cent saying that their institution's strategies are based around consolidation and cost-reduction.

Uncertainties and risks ahead - Some are still distinctly nervous, with around 17 per cent concerned that shortages of investment funds and/or staff capacity and skills will seriously constrain their future plans. Over 30 per cent are expecting the introduction of higher undergraduate fees to lead to a significant reduction in student demand.

Most admired universities — The universities most admired for their leadership and innovation in response to changing demands and opportunities were Warwick University (11 nominations of 65), followed by Exeter (9), Nottingham (8), Loughborough (7) and UCL (6). Maastricht University was also nominated as an example of an overseas institution responding effectively to changes in UK funding and policy.

Full details of the research are available at PA

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