BUFDG Finance Festival 2024

11th-13th March 2024
Online - Hopin



Want to know what to watch?  The table below shows what sessions might be of interest depending on your job role. You can then find out more using the session drop-down tabs below. Please note that the plenaries have been chosen because they are relevant for everyone.

Area Session
Commercialisation & Subsidiaries 1C, 2C, 4A, 7A
Counter-Fraud & Risk 3C, 6A, 7B
Finance Technology 2A, 3B, 5A, 6A
Financial Reporting & Audit 1C, 4B, 7B, 8C
Funding P1, 3B, 5B, P3, 8B
Income & Collection Management 2B
International P1, 7C
Management / Learning & Development P2, 4C, P4
Management Accounting 3B
Payroll & Employment 5C, 6B, 7C
Pensions 1C, 6B, 8A
Procurement 1B, 5A, 5B
Research Finance 5C, 7B
Sustainability / ESG 1B, 3A, 4B, 5B, 6C, P3
Strategy and Planning P1, 2A, 3B, 8B
Tax 2C, 5C, 7A, 7C
Treasury 1A, 3A, 6C


Click to expand each of the sessions below and find out more about them.


9.30 - 10.30

Andy Westwood is Professor of Government Practice at the University of Manchester, and an expert in Further and Higher Education. He will kick-off the Finance Festival by talking about the current context of UK Higher Education. He will highlight the current themes challenges facing the sector, the policy environment, and what changes we can expect over the next 12-18 months.

11.00 - 12.00

By March 2024 we could be seeing falling or stagnating inflation and falling interest rates. We will also be in political election years in the UK and the US. How does this affect markets and sentiments? Whilst cash returns have been robust lately, what will they look like in the Spring of 2024?

What should be the priorities be in the investment of treasury and endowment areas within the fixed income universe? Is it time to consider adding longer duration to portfolios for interest yield protection? Defensive positions could be the key. What are the fixed income markets looking like and what are they predicting through the remainder of 2024? What are our approaches to investing at this stage in the cycle? Where do we think markets are going?

This session will discuss liquidity and duration in the fixed income world, the uncertainties of the markets, and how to navigate these.

Following on from his presentations at the previous BUFDG Finance Festival and the UKUPC Conference in Exeter, we are delighted to joined once again by Sam Russell, Senior Policy Lead at the Cabinet Office, for a presentation highlighting the latest on the Transforming Public Procurement programme and the Procurement Act, due to be implemented in October 2024

Ensuring an effective year-end statutory financial reporting process with a robust external audit process is a core objective for any Finance Director. With increasing legislation and regulation for universities, this is of paramount importance to all senior finance personnel working in the Higher Education sector.

As external auditors operating in the sector, Buzzacott will provide an update on the latest financial reporting and auditing matters, tackling those areas that auditors are likely to consider as issues of greater audit significance or complexity.  

Amongst others, the session will include discussion on the following areas: Feedback from the 2023 year-end financial reporting and auditing process; The OfS accounting requirements; Presentation of the University's annual report and financial statements to address the requirements of the University's stakeholders; Common accounting complexities, including accounting for pensions, the implications of partnering and sub-contracting, capital transactions, US Federal Student Loans and other matters; Areas of valuation, estimation and judgement; Going concern and financial sustainability: Governors' responsibilities and the audit requirements

13.00 - 14.00

We are in a new market regime of greater macro volatility and higher interest rates and this has important implications for investing across all asset classes. In this session we will discuss what this new regime means for markets, geopolitics and energy as well as providing insights into the 4 mega trends we think are already shaping the future.

One of these megatrends is Artificial Intelligence (AI) which has recently been dominating headlines. We will delve into detail with our technology sector expert on how AI has evolved  and what we think the future of technology looks like.

Neill Mackinnon (Client Services Director at STA International) Graham Smith (Head of Business Development at IODM) and Glenn Ruane (Head of Fees, Income and Credit Control at The London School of Economics and Political Science) will provide insights and perspectives on the 6 pillars of successful cash collection and credit management.
1.    Strategy and Policy.
2.    Processes/Solutions.
3.    People – Know your customers.
4.    Customer Support.
5.    Penalties and Specialist Collection.
6.    Partnerships. 

BUFDG’s tax team, Julia Ascott and Andrea Marshall, will outline the top UK tax issues that are common concerns in the university sector at the moment and provide their thoughts on what action you may need to take to address them.

14.30 - 15.30

59% of UK universities have now set a net zero target that covers scope 3 emissions*. For many universities this target is primarily composed of the emissions associated with endowment and investment portfolios, though increasingly the expectation is that it should extend across the campus.  

Setting a net zero target is a major milestone, but the challenge is in the implementation.

This session will address four challenges:
1.    How to adapt to changing data quality
2.    What to do if the speed of progress is different to the forecast trajectory
3.    How to communicate progress with wider stakeholders
4.    How you might align campus-wide net zero targets.

Financial modelling, business planning and forecasting are often overlooked aspects of Universities finance functions. In this session QMPF will provide insights from its experience of financial modelling in the sector and considering approaches to model building and modelling best practice.

Starting with an overview of why robust, transparent, and consistent approaches to modelling are important, the session will illustrate common 'bad' practice in model development and the potential risks this introduces. QMPF will move on to illustrate approaches that can be taken to developing robust financial models and processes that reflect good practice, as well as the importance of avoiding being 'ugly'. This will give attendees insight into how to develop models and model outputs that support reporting and enable an efficient processes.

The session is designed to be engaging and provide practical examples and lessons. To aid this, QMPF will use a practical recent example of work in the sector developing a forecasting model for a university client to illustrate these principle, how they can be adopted and the benefits it can bring.

Fiona Raistrick, Head of BDO’s Economic Crime Advisory business, will speak on some of the latest considerations universities should be making in relation to managing economic crime risk, such as money laundering and fraud. This will include an update on the latest SAR reforms, with the launch of the new SAR portal, the increasing use of money mules and the impact on universities and what good looks like when it comes to demonstrating a robust approach to economic crime risk management within higher education. 



9.30 - 10.30

Focusing on personal and team development can be especially hard in challenging times. In this session our panel members will share their personal insights, challenges and success stories in Higher Education finance. No matter your level, we will have something in this session for you, including the experiences of current Finance Graduate Scheme members, recently post qualified members all the way through to a CFO. 

We’ll ask how they find time to develop, the types of development and indeed what constitutes as ‘development’ for them. The session will explore the experience of being new to Higher Education, continuous development, adding value and for those who want to become Senior leaders, top tips on what to focus on.   

11.00 - 12.00

In this session Oxford University Innovation will introduce the audience to the thought process surrounding the various ways that IP might be commercialised (licensing deals and spin out companies,) and how the company aims to maximise the global impact of Oxford’s research and expertise as well as supporting the University’s societal and financial aims. In addition, how the funds generated by this commercialisation are used to reward and incentivise Researchers and the University alike, as well as to further additional enterprise.

HW Fisher will discuss how the management of commercialised IP does not stop when the licence agreement is signed. It is important to understand the university’s obligations to third parties, including researchers and funders, are being allocated properly per the terms of their regulations and agreements.
It is also important to monitor the progress of licensees, and maintain the relationship in a positive and proactive way, and this includes ensuring that the licensees (or even spin-off ventures) are correctly accounting for revenues due to the Tech Transfer unit.

We will discuss negotiating audit rights within the licensing agreement and the circumstances under which it is beneficial to utilise the audit clause. We will also walk through the typical areas of investigation within a royalty audit and the potential shortfalls or omissions that are often uncovered. 

In this session we demystify the challenging regulatory frameworks and explain which, if any, reporting requirements are mandatory. We highlight some best practice examples, including from those providers who are not required to report, but are producing SECR (Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting) disclosures and environmental impact reports, to highlight progress.

Environmental reporting may be external to the expertise of finance teams, so we will provide some resources for teams in order to get up to speed with the language, methods and requirements. Our presenters are well placed to comment on their own experiences from an audit and technical background.

This session will explore what is meant by the science of inclusion and how it shapes our working environment.  We will take a look at the key issues faced by the finance function in achieving a representative workforce, what progress is being made across public sector organisations and what approaches Higher Education and your individual function could consider to make progress. Please being your thoughts and ideas to this session.

13.00 - 14.00

When considering the potential cost, risks and complexity of migrating your core finance system(s) to the cloud, it’s tempting to ask why you would do it at all. 
However, for those that approach the challenge as an opportunity to rethink and improve the way in which they deliver Finance services, the potential benefits are great. Whilst cloud adoption requires a real shift in mentality and an acceptance that you can no longer bend the technology to fit every vagary and nuance of your business, what it does provide is the opportunity to learn from global leading practice, significantly bolster the quality of both your data security and management information.

If done well, systems change can be a catalyst for improved service delivery on a number of levels, and whilst the Higher Education sector is replete with salient warnings about the perils of getting it wrong, it’s also full of fantastic examples of how modern cloud technology has significantly improved day-to-day finance operations. Join Sam Sanders (KPMG), Nicola Arnold (Jisc) and guests as they unwrap the findings of the recently released BUFDG Guide to Finance System Implementation in HE – Ahead in the Cloud, and share the some of the many lessons learnt by UK Higher Education providers.

According to the Times Higher Education survey, sustainability is more important than location and just as many students are likely to rate ‘university sustainability’ as a top priority as ‘graduate employment prospects’. With sustainability being such a key factor in many students minds, there is a clear need for higher education institutions to have a clear, targeted and funded climate action plan. But how to go about it?
There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for higher education institutions to decarbonise. Factors such as location, current estate, demographics, supply chain, and of course, funding, all have a major influence on the feasibility and business case for various options. 
Helpfully BUFDG together with AUDE (the Association of Higher Education Directors of Estates) and the EAUC (the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education) have launched their Cost of Net Zero Calculator tool, which helps institutions to better understand their cost levels and estimated carbon reduction achievable across the three categories of supply chain, built environment and travel/transport.
Looking at estates specifically, we will look at some of the options and talk through a number of examples of how different institutions have approached decarbonisation.

Julia Ascott (BUFDG) and Paul Moreels (KPMG) will present a session on the latest payment issues relating to volunteers, research participants, students (including trickier post-graduate arrangements) and fellowships. Whilst payments such as stipends, bursaries, scholarships, studentships, etc. are often considered tax free by the HE Sector, there are trip hazards that need to be hurdled (or not!) before payments can genuinely be paid free from tax obligations, typically around employment status.

This session will look at the trip hazards which will help you determine high risk scenarios at your institution, and some of the compliance issues around them.

14.30 - 15.30

All around us, cyber-attacks and cyber fraud are more prevalent than they have ever been. It’s essential that we remain up to date and informed on the key risks that face all of our organisations. Andrea Deegan, Fraud Risk Director, will be co presenting the session with Richard Curtis, a Certified Ethical hacker who provides practical advice and guidance to organisations on how to secure their IT systems, infrastructure and safeguard their key assets. Andrea and Richard will be covering several topics covering potential security threats and cyber fraud, relevant to the sector including, the evolving cyber threat landscape, some common attack techniques and proactive strategies to prevent cyber vulnerabilities.

An opportunity to step back and consider total reward, including pensions, for the sector.  

Flexible benefits packages are becoming increasingly common in the UK.  Such an approach enables employees to choose from a variety of different benefits and to personalise their reward to best suit their individual needs and specific circumstances as these change over time – and increases job satisfaction and retention.

The session will explore how the sector can offer greater flexibility.  So much of the staff-related spend has been directed to pensions in the past and the rigidity within the pension schemes provided could be seen as a limiting factor.  The reward structures in place might be creating unfairness and ignore different generational requirements.  How do you know what people want? And will value? 

The session will share Isio’s research undertaken with YouGov, and the eye-opening insight into the UK workforce’s attitudes towards work, finances, moving jobs and employee benefits. We will look into what’s working in employee benefits, who it’s working for, and whether the design of the benefit package is providing poor value for some (or even unintentionally discriminating against) certain groups of employees.

Whilst most Universities have set net zero targets, according to our research, only around a third are currently including their investment assets in those plans.

BUFDG and Cazenove are publishing practical guidance to help Universities take the next step. 

Join us to hear the highlights of the handbook and learn how to set an appropriate climate related investment policy. The session will cover how to work with your advisers to deliver your objectives in practice, what to measure, how to report and the pitfalls to avoid. 



9.30 - 10.30

Energy Systems Catapult is funded by the Department of Energy, Sustainability and Net Zero to support the public sector by providing free guidance, tools and bespoke support. This session will draw from ESC's forthcoming guide, which helps those developing estates decarbonisation projects to effectively pitch and receive support.

It will provide information and practical steps you can take to support your organisation to reach its Net Zero goals, including securing buy-in for projects, getting business cases signed off, and inter-departmental communications in complex organisations. Discuss the critical issue of how we tackle climate change, and input into the Catapult’s work programme for the coming year.

11.00 - 12.00

With the breadth of University activity ever increasing - whether to expand reach, enhance knowledge sharing or to generate additional income, it is important that Universities carefully consider how they structure their operations.  Most HE institutions have established trading subsidiaries and other special purpose companies and some larger institutions now operate quite complex group structures. The governing and resourcing of those companies is subject to a range of regulation including under company law and charity law.

HE finance professionals often have a role in administering group companies and this session will provide a useful refresher on when and why subsidiary companies might be required and how Universities could and should manage relationships with them.       We'll touch on strategies for effectively governing subsidiary companies but the main focus of the session will be on some of the legal challenges in operating a group structure.  

The contribution of charitable assets and resources to commercial activities can throw up a range of issues which University boards need to be aware of and properly evaluate. The sharing of rights and information  between group companies also needs to be managed carefully. We will also touch on other common issues such as VAT, subsidy control and regulator interests. 

Research Assurance and Compliance is growing in complexity as universities diversify and grow their research portfolios. This session aims to provide a high-level summary of the role that finance colleagues play in the Research Assurance arena. Delivered by experienced university assurance professionals and specialist grant auditors, the session will include details on institutional assurance activities delivered by major funders, and the fundamentals of project-specific grant auditing, levels of assurance and common errors and pitfalls.

BUFDG’s tax team, Julia Ascott and Andrea Marshall, will outline the top international tax issues that are common concerns in the university sector at the moment and provide their thoughts on what action you may need to take to address them.

13.00 - 14.00

Rebecca will go through what’s been happening and what is yet to come in the world of pensions in Higher Education covering USS, TPS, LGPS and local schemes. Rebecca will look at how pensions costs can be managed but also how pensions strategy can work for your employees. She’ll comment on what some institutions have already done and consider some of the more creative solutions being thought about to ensure good outcomes for all stakeholders. It’s all about strategy, options and communications.

This session will focus on the current challenges for Student Accommodation projects, and discuss why despite the current crisis, the future still looks rosy. We will explore some of the available financing structures and the private sector partnering deals in the higher education sector.

This session will be run by the Student Accommodation senior team, Victoria Goddard and Chris Owens. Recently they have led student accommodation projects for LSE and the Universities of Birmingham, London, Leicester, York, Sussex and Royal Holloway University with a range of funders, (Assured Guaranty, PIC and Aviva) and DBFO providers (UPP, Uliving, Balfour Beatty, Equitix, DIF and City Heart) as well as leading individual bids for DBFO provider Equitix.

The trials and tribulations of the annual external audit has been a hot topic on the BUFDG discussion forum in recent months with many Universities finding the process more challenging, costly and time consuming than ever. In this session, Finance staff from the University of Birmingham explain how they have managed to reduce their audit timetable by several weeks and what measures they have put in place to improve the planning and programme management of their audit.         

14.30 - 15.30

Employee engagement within the UK is amongst the lowest in the world (our own research indicates HE actually fairs worse than many other sectors) and nationally around 40% of workers feel stressed daily, resulting in low productivity, happiness and profit.

This session is designed to empower you to harness and maximise your unique strengths, and those of your team. Through shifting the focus from a traditional deficit approach of fixing weaknesses towards a strengths-based paradigm, you will learn how to capitalise on the diverse strengths around you to improve innovation and overall performance within the workplace.

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