Speech delivered by Paul Marshall, Executive Director of the 1994 Group, at the QS-Asia conference of world leaders in HE, Kuala Lumpur 22.11.2009.
Written by Mario Creatura
"Distinguished guests, it is a true honour to speak to you today.
Using case studies drawn from 1994 Group, this session will consider how within the UK's market based funding environment, a combination of visionary leadership, clear strategic planning and close performance management led them to be recognised by the QS-World Rankings as among the world’s leading Higher Education institutions. It also considers the implications of the current economic crisis on the sustainability of the UK HE system.
The 1994 Group represents 19 of the UK’s leading research intensive, student focused universities. We are a group united by our desire to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Around half of the top 20 universities in UK national league tables are members of the group.
Our strength is remarkable given our size and age. Our institutions are small to medium size – on average 10,000 students. The sector average being closer to 20,000. The majority of our institutions are around 50 years old. Although some have been around for over 400 years!
We spend the highest proportion of our funding on Social Studies, Humanities and Biosciences; while the highest proportion of our research income comes from biosciences, physics and chemistry.
The government department for Business, Innovation and Skills is charged with building a dynamic and competitive UK economy by promoting innovation, enterprise and science. They wish to achieve this by fostering world-class universities and promoting an open global economy. Earlier this month, Lord Mandelson the First Secretary of State for the United Kingdom and head of BIS, said: “It seems to me that in equipping the UK for a post-recession global economy, higher education and adult skills will be not just important but decisive.” Politics and Education are inextricably linked.
Government support and funding is crucial, and we believe that funding should be offered as a reward for quantifiable success. The Higher Education Funding Council for England is a non-governmental public body that is responsible for allocating funding to higher education institutions. In 1997 when the current government came to power, HEFCE distributed roughly £3.4 billion worth of funding.
Including £2.4 billion for teaching and £704 million for research.
This year, following a decade of substantial government investment HEFCE allocated £8 billion to universities and colleges.
Including £5 billion for teaching and nearly £2 billion for research.
In addition to sound funding, the autonomy of the sector is fundamental to its success - no matter the age of the institution. Each is private and is governed according to its own strategy by academics and through its lay governors in its council.
Working together, the 1994 Group is committed to providing an extremely high standard of education, demonstrating excellence in teaching and academic support, and providing learning in a research-rich community. This mentality unites all of our institutions – and it is through this unification that we are made stronger and more effective by our efforts.
But it is one thing to describe our mission statement; it is another to prove quantifiably that we are achieving our aims.
Statistically we have improved dramatically. 10 years ago there were 18 of the 1994 Group institutions in the top 50 of the Times Good University Guide. This year’s results paint a vastly improved picture.
In The Times Good University Guide 2010 we were put top in six regions of the UK.
9 of the top 200 universities in the world in the QS World University Rankings 2009.
This is a huge achievement. To ensure that our research intensive institutions improve their global standing, the first and most crucial step is one of visionary leadership.
The design and implementation of strategic plans need to be right from the start. The most effective way to ensure this is to have highly qualified managers. By having leadership in the upper echelons of HE institutions that truly acknowledge the awesome impact that they can have on the sector and the international community, universities will play a major role in shaping the post-recession economy.
The Department for Business Innovation and Skills recently released a report called ‘From Recession to Recovery’ where they illustrated how strong leadership and decisive decision-making from universities were reaching out to struggling businesses to offer their advice and expertise thus enabling them to become more productive, innovative and competitive. For example, one of the 1994 Group, the University of Surrey, is working with the Tavistock Institute to launch the Leadership Academy for Innovation, Leadership and Recovery. Through this we are spreading our leadership into the community. This can only be possible if we create efficient strategic plans to ensure success for our efforts.
In order to truly achieve quantifiable improvements in the sector in the era of global economic turbulence, institutions have had to tailor their developmental strategies to these new circumstances.
So to maintain growth in the market, all of our institutions realise that they must be responsive to the changing landscape and must capitalise on the opportunities for expansion.
Lancaster University is based in the Northwest of England and is ranked 7th in the UK for the level of its research. Within their new strategic plan, issued a matter of weeks ago, they acknowledged that they must be ‘sensitive to the needs of home students and the business community in the region, the changing environment for research support, and the important role placed by regional F.E. colleges in helping widen access to higher education.’ They also pledged to focus their resources on to the 1,500 overseas students that study at their UK campus. Lancaster signed an agreement with the Sunway University College in Malaysia in 2006. The first students graduated from this exciting collaborative arrangement in October 2009. There are currently 1,000 students enrolled at Sunway on joint degrees ranging from Psychology to Business and Management to Information Technology.
Loughborough University, another 1994 Group institution, is based in the East Midlands of the England and this year was given the coveted title of University of the Year by the Times Newspaper. In setting out their strategic plan they have highlighted a set of elements they believe are crucial to the successful implementation of the strategic planning process.
- Planning helps crystallise distinctive qualities
Understanding what your University is known for, and knowing how to capitalise on the expertise that your institution has, is essential in accurately placing where you want to develop in the future.
Supporting strategies and operational plans should be used effectively to reinforce any ideas to make them realistic, contextualised goals rather than ambitious dreams.
- Consultation, Collaboration and Communication
Consultation is the key to guaranteeing that your proposals are obtainable and palatable.
Collaborate with all stakeholders, staff and students.
Seek the consul of external advisers and figures in your local community and communicate effectively to as many people that will be affected by the plan as possible.
The more information you acquire the greater the chance of efficient implementation.
But how do you measure success?
What better tools do we have at our disposal than league tables? League tables have their faults, but they act as an encouraging benchmark with which to measure ourselves against.
Are our students satisfied? How are our institutions perceived on a national and international scale? Is the amount that we are providing to groundbreaking research demonstrating return for our investment? All of these questions are leading to one crucial quandary: is our leadership truly visionary in its approach and is our strategic plan accounting for every facet of our higher education establishments? A report by the US Institute for Higher Education Policy called the ‘Impact of College Rankings on Institutional Decision-Making’ has found that rankings can foster collaboration; lead institutions to share best practice and prompt improvements in teaching and learning. This is the case within the 1994 Group.
There are two things that need to be measured to ensure success: the first is research aptitude.
The Research Assessment Exercise occurs roughly every 5 years on behalf of the UK higher education funding councils to evaluate the quality of research undertaken by researchers. RAE submissions from each subject area are given a rank by peer review panels. The rankings are used to inform how much research funding is given to each higher education institution. Within institutions the RAE process encourages and enables the close performance management of faculty expectations not only of publications, but also interaction with business, success in research grant applications and completion of PhD students are carefully measure by faculty managers. Success in all these areas is necessary to achieve the highest grades.
The most recent assessment took place in 2008 where it said that 57% of the 1994 Group's research is rated 'world-leading' or 'internationally excellent'. Rewards for this success is clear. Funding for research in the UK is highly concentrated. In England, 116 institutions receive research funding. Of these:
- 50% goes to the top 10 institutions
- 75% goes to the top 25 institutions
- 92% goes to the top 50 institutions
1994 Group institutions receive between them 19.5% of all research funding. 1994 Group institutions lead in 16 subjects areas, for them, research funding is crucial to maintaining the necessarily high expectations of quality from the public and the international community.
The National Student Survey in Britain is a tool custom designed to assess teaching quality, but crucially from a student experience perspective. The annual NSS is conducted by an independent polling company which asks leavers to assess from their own individual perspective the institution that they have just spent 3 or more years studying in. This years results show that 88% of students at the Group’s 19 member universities say they are satisfied with the overall student experience. The national average is 81%. Responding to what students expect from university can only make us stronger. Institutions use the results of the NSS alongside their internal assessment procedures to measure the performance of faculties. Where the performance of faculties is found to be out of line with that of other subject areas within the institutions or against peers actions are taken to address problems. There is heavy pressure to ensure high NSS scores. The demand in our sector is growing, and with finite resources, more creative methods of delivering a key societal service must be discovered.
How can we ensure a good all encompassing university experience? And why is it important to constantly strive to provide the best possible environment for an educational institution? All our members have a firm belief that every student and tutor should have the resources that they need, no matter what their background, to be nurtured and to grow into their full potential.
At the Conservative Party conference in October 2009, Prof. Shirley Pearce Vice Chancellor of the University of Loughborough told us that “when [she] was a student it was not apparent that all [her] teachers cared about [her] learning experience – their research progress seemed to be more important than her wellbeing as a student. This is certainly not the way it is in the 1994 Group of universities.” Her impassioned plea to leaders in education; politics and business to acknowledge the potential that is within students and staff was only superseded by her desire to ensure that this potential is coaxed out with both financial and emotional investment at all times.
Students that are secure in their learning environment, provided with every possible resource and supported at by dedicated members of staff can achieve greatness. By working together, across different institutions and sectors, to share best practice we can improve the level of attainment in higher education. We believe that careful, innovative planning and meticulous assessment is the foundation of achievement.
The Centre for Higher Education Research and Information on behalf of HEFCE published in 2008 a paper assessing the impact of league tables on English HEI’s entitled ‘Counting what is measured or measuring what counts?’ In it they asked UK HE leaders what they thought about the statement: “Rankings Provide a valuable means of public accountability for higher education institutions and help to distinguish the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’”. In line with their overall clear strategic focus, 1994 Group institutions placed a far greater degree of value than the rest of the sector on league table rankings as a means of public accountability with a quarter agreeing with the statement.
In terms of the influence that university rankings have on institutional actions, overall, institutions were found to have made most changes to promotion and marketing activities; decisions on how best to submit data including adaptation of key performance indicators or targets. 75% of the 1994 Group institutions strongly agreed or agreed that their strategic development had been influenced strongly by the use of league tables, and with 88% of our students being satisfied as a result of our plans and with the Group leading in 16 major research areas; surely this is an encouraging correlation?
It is results such as these and the planning that occurs as a result of their crucial analysis that enables out institutions to inform policy changes on a governmental as was as institutional level.
In terms of the percentage of GDP spent on higher education, the UK is close to the European average but the UK had the highest number of research publications in the top 1 per cent of citations over the period 2000–2006. The UK ranks second only to the US globally on this ranking.
Universities have been acknowledged as being vital for future economic and social prosperity. In fact a recent report by UUK costs the benefit of the HE sector on the British economy as close to £59 billion! Government recognition of the key role for research with potential long-term benefit, as well as giving short-term advancement, is critical. There is an enormous potential for our research base in our leading Universities to play a constructive role in social and economic development in a period when public resources will be stretched and contested. It is vital that the outstanding record of the HE sector is recognised, but also that pressure on public support is not translated into policies which will inhibit the future contribution of the international research base. Impact must be grounded in excellence. What then is necessary to continue this success? What are the threads of our system?
The 1994 Group universities have an international reputation for the quality of their policy research, employing academics at the very top of their fields.
Their expertise informs government officials and policy makers, and impacts directly on the economic, social, cultural, technological, medical and environmental development of the nation and the wider world. Often working across a variety of academic disciplines, they call upon knowledge, innovation and expertise from different sections of the university's staff. They forge close links with industry, government and the public on regional, national and international levels, to deliver the most informed and meaningful research.
Research and Enterprise; Student Experience; and Strategic Planning and Resources. These are the 1994 Groups three policy groups and are designed to provide an essential avenue through which the group can strengthen inter-institutional activity and provide a forum for the development of longer-term policy.
A recent example of the influential policy consultation that we have carried out can be found in our report on the research landscape of the United Kingdom. This report argues that universities are vital to the UK’s capacity to meet current and future national and global challenges and to drive economic growth. Combating climate change and ensuring life-long health and well-being are just some of the critical challenges that our universities are meeting. This report sets out examples of world leading research, identifies key common features and makes policy recommendations to strengthen our research base. With the right support the cutting-edge research at our universities can help address our most pressing challenges.
I believe that Higher Education needs a strong and influential voice in government, and that only with commitment and the right visionary leadership to accurately direct our vast pool of world-renowned academics can improvements across the sector, on a policy level, be successfully achieved.
So has any of this helped the 1994 Group members? Lets have a look. In the last 15 years...
- The University of Exeter has improved 30 places.
- The University of Leicester has risen 17 places.
- The University of St. Andrews has gone up 12.
- The University of East Anglia has increasing by 11.
- Loughborough University has increased by 8.
- Lancaster University has climbed by 5.
To name a few! Increased funding is unarguably a huge factor in their growth and development. But this is not the sole reason.
The system that I have presented today enables institutions to be rewarded for success – but that success is not taken for granted. We live in a dynamite sector which changes according to new circumstances. Taking advantage of every change from that position of strength is the key stone to our successful institutions.
We are entering such a moment of change.
Lord Mandelson has recently published a higher education framework, vital for the future of higher education. Whichever party wins our general election next year, I foresee five years which will be both the most exciting, dramatic and completely terrifying that HE has known for at least thirty years.
The ability for out institutions to respond to these challenges will determine their future national and international competitiveness.
In teaching, to meet ever increasing expectation from government and the nation, we shall see a new dawn in transparency, quality and recognition of the essential role of the student experience. Institutions will provide transparent information, to inform students’ choices and advice on graduate employment prospects to reveal the stark diversity and differentiation of task and mission which underpins the excellence of UK HE.
To ensure research excellence, scarce resources will be carefully allocated to deliver maximum impact. A new system of assessment and funding will build upon recognised excellence to usher in a new era where recognition for the impact of government investment plays a central role in determining reward alongside, and tied together with, that excellence. Co-creation of knowledge with businesses and charities rather than an ivory tower mentality will become the norm.
Alongside these key changes we will see the shape of the sector shift. The next government will push forward with a system of credit accumulation and transfer and break down barriers between full-time and part-time study, raise the status of Further Education and genuinely provide access to HE for all, literally at the end of every street. This will challenge the HE sector to respond and adapt, particularly as existing teaching resources will increasingly be redirected towards science subject areas which the government considers will provide the greatest returns for the UK.
Finally, a new government will question whether the investment in teaching and research is delivering a system which provides what taxpayers, students and businesses expect. It is simply wrong to invest without clear evidence of return. Lord Mandelson concludes: ‘In future, new priorities will be chiefly supported by redistribution of existing funds and leverage of private investment rather than provision of new money.’
Students will be delivered more. Researchers will contribute more. The sector will be opened up to increased competition and expand in ways never before experience. Yet, and this is the economic reality, all of these improvements and radical redesigns will be undertaken not on the basis of an increase in funding, but a likely reduction at least 15 per cent over the first three years of the government. In a speech to the University Chairs of Council last week, Sir Alan Langlan, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England lamented the fact that with the exception of Spain, of all the G20 countries, the UK was the only country that had failed to increase funding in Higher Education during the economic downturn.
Both political parties have warned the sector that it has been poor at making its case for investment and that it is possible, indeed likely, that it will suffer as a consequence. But we must all recognise that the financial scenario I have painted does not deliver a sustainable future for HE. It is right then, that at this most difficult of economic times, questions regarding, for example, the appropriate level of individual graduate contributions and the focus of research funding must be confronted, debated and answered. This must be not simply to resolve out immediate crisis but to deliver a genuine vision for HE that can be shared by institutions, students, taxpayers and government not for the next five years but for the next fifty.
I believe that to ensure that our Universities are truly great it is imperative that our HE leaders create realistic user-centric development strategies that are constantly monitored with performance management guidelines. Our universities must strive to work together for a system that rewards success with funding in order to demonstrate to all policy makers that the higher education sector will prove decisive in the knowledge based economy that will emerge from the global recession. None of this is possible without essential visionary leadership that takes into account the requirements and the feelings of the students and staff, to guarantee that we are creating a global community of high attaining research intensive universities.
It is the combination of those key factors which has led to the success of the 1994 Group member institutions and which I believe will lead them forward in the face of serious challenges over the next five years.
Thank you for listening."