BUFDG Digest - 13 March 2024

13 March 2024      Amanda Darley, Head of Operations and Engagement

Welcome to this week’s Digest, coming to you from the middle of Day 3 of the 2024 BUFDG Finance Festival which the whole BUFDG team has been involved in. With more than 1,750 H E delegates registered from 166 higher education providers, it’s our biggest yet! We’re finding the sessions fascinating, and hope you’re finding them useful. If you missed anything you can watch the recordings. We can highly recommend our opening plenary session, ‘The next year in higher education, and beyond’, from Andy Westwood, Professor of Government Practice at the University of Manchester, and an expert in Further and Higher Education.


Our Spring Budget Special edition of TaxHE was issued last week, highlighting the tax headlines from last week’s Budget. You can obtain in-depth analysis of the Budget and what it likely means for future government spending plans with the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ Budget resources, including a replay of an excellent webinar, or a 90-second explanation of the Budget. We’ve also gathered links to some other Budget responses on the discussion board.

Mentions of higher education in the budget included Jeremy Hunt’s comment in the House that ‘outside the US we have the most respected universities’, a repeat of the information about university spin-out companies from the Autumn Statement (a £20m proof-of-concept fund to support universities and future founders to de-risk technology, and a pilot approach to supporting the establishment by universities of shared Technology Transfer Offices), and further investment of various types in Cambridge to support the development of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, with the government also announcing it is ‘on track to deliver a set of water saving measures which … could unlock more than 9,000 homes in the Cambridge area’, as there is concern over water scarcity in the region, and further development and growth could risk deterioration of the supply.


HEPI’s recent ‘tour’ of the UK (Nick Hillman described it as ‘the closest I will ever get as a think-tank director to feeling like a rock star on tour’) to discuss H E fees and funding has been summarised in Nick’s blog on the HEPI website setting out ‘What did we learn about the best way to fund higher education from our UK tour?’. He writes that one ‘intriguing thing was that each of the conversations in the four places had a completely different focus and tenor, even though some of the comparative information being presented from the London Economics and Nuffield Foundation studies was the same. This variety was not entirely surprising, given the growing divergence in funding and regulatory policies across the four parts of the UK and when each part of the UK has different political parties in charge.’

It seems that the panel in England was focused on ways to persuade policymakers to divert more financial resources to English HEPS, ‘even if that only means more in cash terms rather than in real terms and despite the tricky political and economic environment’.

By contrast, in Northern Ireland, ‘there was much less hope in the likelihood of much additional money any time soon’ with the new Executive still finding its feet and having other priorities. There was a focus instead on ‘making the money that is available go further for the benefit of learners, as well as on the need for more student places for local people’. Cross-border flows of students came up a lot, (both RoI to NI, and NI to England), and there was greater focus on students other than full-time undergraduates.

In Scotland ‘there was a palpable sense of relief that a more open conversation about higher education funding was beginning to take shape than has been common in recent years’. It was widely felt that a conversation around improving funding without the ‘stifling impact’ of the ‘acceptance across much of the political spectrum of so-called “free” education’ was ‘vital if issues such as the huge underfunding of the many higher education students enrolled in Scotland’s colleges (which have a unit of resource of around half an English university) or the absence of proper support for part-time students or the impact of student number caps are ever going to be addressed’.

As many people seem to think the Welsh funding system ‘is the best (though still imperfect)’ in the UK, much of the focus in Wales was around ‘the ways the system has worked well (for example, for postgraduate students, at least to date) and on the progressive nature of the real interest rate on student loans (which no longer exists anywhere else in the UK)’. However, there remains scope to ‘reduce bureaucracy, improve efficiencies, collaborate more (for example, with local authorities) and do further work to broaden access’. Some in the audience were ‘shocked to hear that the most generous system for students anywhere in the UK also has a comparatively low higher education participation rate’ (also covered in Wonkhe’s review of the new CTER priorities).

The sessions in England, Northern Ireland, and Scotland were recorded and will be available on HEPI’s YouTube channel (but the session in Wales could not be recorded for technical/venue reasons). 


Robert MacIntosh, PVC for Business and Law at Northumbria University, argues in a HEPI blog about international student numbers that ‘January start programmes in UK business schools may well be the sector’s equivalent of a canary’ as an early warning sign of changes in the international student recruitment market. And with 75% of respondents to a Chartered Association of Business Schools survey of 50 universities experiencing significantly or slightly lower enrolments of non-EU students in January 2024 compared to January 2023, and 60% of business schools reporting that enrolments for postgraduate programmes at business schools were significantly lower than last year, the early signs aren’t good.

Given the financial situation the sector currently finds itself in, with ‘a much more arid prospect for the future’ (Lord Blunkett), you may want a short break from all that to hear politicians praising all that is good about H E, for a change. No, we don’t mean Jeremy Hunt’s comment in last week’s Budget speech, or anything in the House of Commons, but rather the House of Lords debate on the contribution of higher education to national growth, productivity and levelling-up the following day, (you can watch it on Parliament TV, or read the Hansard transcript). The sight of more than half the House leaving the chamber at the start of the debate is slightly disheartening but the vast majority of what was said is very heartening. And if you want a reminder of what the current UK government has done for higher education, then the debate ends with a summary of all that from Baroness Barran, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (DfE).

Wonkhe’s David Kernohan has outlined some of the key points on franchising discussed by the Public Accounts Committee on 26 February. There is now a ‘fortnightly intelligence sharing meeting between SLC, OfS, and DfE. SLC has expanded its “financial crime unit” (now standing at 55 FTE, and reckoned to have prevented some £30m of fraud this year), OfS is focusing future regulatory interventions around quality assurance for franchise provision’. In addition, UUK is revising the codes of practice on agents and recruitment, which appears to have active DfE support as a way to help address this issue. And UUK is keen on a requirement for all franchise partners to be registered with the OfS, but is mindful of the disproportionate administrative burden this may cause the providers, and also thinks that the ongoing update to the QAA Quality Code will clarify expectations around franchise arrangements. The Office for the Independent Adjudicator is concerned that students at unregistered providers will be unable to access its complaints mechanism. Find out more in the Wonkhe article.

After publishing a report ‘Cracks in our foundations: Evaluating foundation years as a tool for access and success’, a HEPI blog looks at data which are starting to emerge around foundation year courses and international students, in the wake of the Sunday Times article in January, and concludes that while there are some data, we still ‘lack basic data on the availability and quality of stand-alone foundation courses. Policymakers should urgently establish whose responsibility it is to collect data on these courses and ensure there is a rigorous process for doing so.’ 


We are pleased to announce that KPMG’s Accounting Advisory Services team will provide technical accounting support to BUFDG and the Financial Reporting Group (FRG) on the production and adoption of a new Statement of Recommended Practice for the further and higher education sector (FEHE SORP).

The FRG acts as the technical working party to the UK Further and Higher Education Statement of Recommended Practice Board (FEHE SORP Board), which is led by Universities UK (UUK) with representatives from HE, FE, funding councils, and representatives from institutional groups such as UUK and the Association of Colleges (AoC).

A new FEHE SORP will be required to reflect the revisions to Financial Reporting Standard (FRS) 102, which the FRC advised is due for release by June 2024 (latest) in their most recent update. With a resulting effective from date of 1 January 2026, this will mean adoption of the new SORP for the 2026/27 financial year for most. More information on this project can be found here.


Phase 4 of the Public Sector Decarbonisation Fund has been confirmed, with guidance expected to be published this summer. Cardiff University has recently received £8.8m in Salix funding for carbon-cutting and energy-saving technologies.

On the Wonkhe site, Zak Coleman of SOS-UK (Students Organising for Sustainability) gives a view on UK banks’ approaches to fossil fuel financing and how universities are responding, including the Cambridge et al Request for Proposals.


Our free, annual employment status training takes place next Thursday (21 March). Under HMRC’s guidelines, all employers are required to provide training to relevant staff members on employment status to demonstrate they take reasonable care to ensure correct application of the rules, so we provide annual training to help your HEP meet this requirement. The training takes place online and is provided by employment tax specialist Caroline Jones of BDO, and employment law specialist Rebecca Seeley-Harris of Re:Legal Consulting Ltd. Book your place here. The training will be recorded and available on our webinars page after the event for those who can’t make it live.

We launched a new publication last week – Tax Brief – which augments, rather than replaces, TaxHE. TaxHE remains the go-to for everyone who wants to know the details of all new developments in H E tax (including last week’s Budget Special), but the BUFDG Tax Brief gives an overview of the main tax issues, without the detail, for when you’re short on time or if you don’t need the detail but do need an awareness.


The Cabinet Office published an update on the new Procurement Act and transforming public procurement a couple of weeks ago, which is reproduced on our website.


The Scottish Universities Finance Conference will be held at the University of Glasgow on 30 May. Bookings will open next week (w/c 18 March), so keep an eye on our Events page.

Wonkhe’s Jim Dickinson examines the recommendations from the Scottish review of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA), and is less than impressed with what has been announced so far. He states that ‘we’re in the realm of “well obviously” here – lots of motherhood and apple pie, without timeframes, measures, cash or much in the way of levers to make it happen. It’s notable that there’s little in there that’s not already in UUK guidance on the issues.’


A Universities Wales blog on Wonkhe examines the Welsh Government’s statement of priorities for CTER, and how these interact with Universities Wales’ own key priorities for the Commission. Of particular note is the concern over the growing participation gap in post-16 education in Wales compared to the rest of the UK.


BUFDG is running an Effective Data Visualisation for Finance course on 20-21 March. Taking place across two x 3-hour sessions on-line, the course will cover principles of information design, data in context, designing for the human brain, and navigation and narrative. Presented by an external expert in data visualisation, Alan Rutter, it costs just £175 (plus VAT).

We’ve also got a Strategic Finance Business Partnering course coming up on 25 March. Another course with two x 3-hour online sessions, it’s ideal if you already have experience of operating in a Finance Business Partnering approach and wish to operate more strategically, further develop the effectiveness and impact of the Finance function and your role, and gain increased organisational influence. It’s presented by Develop Global and costs £260 (plus VAT).

Several BUFDG networks are meeting next week, with the Time to Talk Income Collection and Management meeting on 19 March, the Southeast DFDs meeting on 21 March, and the Southwest DFDs meeting on 22 March.


The job of the fortnight is the Finance Manager Commercial Operations at Birkbeck, University of London, who are looking for a ‘proactive and creative Finance Manager’ to ‘shape the development and improvement of systems and working processes’ in their new Innovation Support Unit, a ‘key area’ for enhancing their commercial and innovation activities.

As ever, lots more vacancies can be found on our Jobs page.

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