17th December 2014

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Season's Greetings Matt Sisson


REF round-up Matt Sisson

The results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) are due on Thursday, when universities and their academic staff will finally find out how highly the quality of their academic work has been rated. The exercise, last undertaken six years ago, determines the basic levels of research funding universities receive. For the first time the exercise also includes an assessment of the impact research has on the wider world.

The timetable of publication, which includes the data release as well as release of related material, is available on the REF website. The Guardian has a two-minute read that outlines what the REF is, and why it’s important. As expected, the impending announcement has also generated considerable amounts of commentary.

Patrick McGhee, Assistant V-C at the University of Bolton has an article in the Guardian that, in a roundabout way, makes the case for universities to look beyond the individual results of the REF, and instead come together to fight for the continued protection of science funding. Martin McQuillan, Pro V-C of Research at Kingston continues the theme in an article in WonkHE, going into more detail about how and why QR funding is likely to come under increasing pressure, and by extension wondering whether this might be the last REF the sector will see. There’s coverage in the THE of a discussion of leading lights, debating the holy grail of how to achieve more trusted assessment for less effort and less money, and another on the threat of redundancies that a quarter of academics believe the REF poses in their department.

Moving on to the question of ‘what next’, University Alliance has published a report, Research Excellence in the 21st Century, and convened a roundtable of sector experts to consider the issues raised as its contribution to the construction of any future framework. They’re also inviting broader thoughts and comments – follow the link to have your say.

HEFCE has published a review of QR funding, commissioned jointly by themselves and Universities UK. According to HEFCE, the review “demonstrates the irreplaceable value universities place on this income stream”. In particular, it finds that: QR offers a more predictable and stable source of funding that enables long-term strategic development of research; QR provides the opportunity to allocate resources to priority research areas, including those that might not easily secure financial support from Research Councils; and QR is widely used to attract and lever research funding into HEIs, including for matched funding bids.

Finally, for the more strategic among you, who may be looking to influence rather than just respond to any future developments in research funding, Steven Hill, Head of Research Policy at HEFCE has a short blog outlining the steps that HEFCE are taking to reflect on, and improve the exercise for the next time.  

Business Travel - the road (or rails?) to compliance Gill Birch

Employee expense claims cover a multitude of seemingly straightforward scenarios, but how do you know what tax rules apply? Might the “10 mile” rule mean the business journey is, in fact, a private journey, or will an employee’s time at a different location fall foul of the “40% attendance” test? When can a “pool car” be taken home without the company car benefit being applied? How might attendance just one day a week at a different location still result in an employee having two permanent workplaces, with the associated PAYE and NIC deductions?

This critical compliance course will provide all attendees with a blue print for not only policing expense claims in the future, but for developing suitable guidance for all University employees to clearly understand where a journey qualifies for tax-free reimbursements. Whether you are responsible for keeping expense policies up to date, reviewing expense claims, operating payroll or hold a more senior, supervisory role, the course will provide you with all of the information you need to provide compliant, consistent advice to departments and colleagues alike.

The course takes place on Thursday 15th January, at The Ambassadors Hotel, Bloomsbury, and costs £350 per delegate. Please click here for more information, and to book your place. 

UUK: Patterns and trends in HE 2014 Matt Sisson

Universities UK has launched its annual report on Patterns and Trends in UK Higher Education. The 2014 edition includes data up to the end of the 2012/13 academic year – the first year for which the maximum tuition fee tripled to £9,000. The headline for the report is the 6.3% reduction in student enrolment compared to 11/12, which includes a 16.7% reduction in first-year undergraduates. Professor Paul O’Prey, Chair of UUK’s Long-term Strategy Network explains in the foreword that “growth is expected to return after 2012-13”.

The report covers a vast array of student, staff, and institutional data, including painting a “fairly positive” financial picture, with a sector surplus of £1.23bn, or 4.2% of turnover. You can download the full report from the Universities UK website. It’s quite a dense statistical release, but you can read a summary in the Times Higher

What do you need for a great procurement team? Matt Sisson

Following on from last week’s article on procurement success at Coventry University, we take another look at the Coventry procurement department courtesy of Mike Hanson, Director of Procurement there. His article on the Efficiency Exchange site focuses on building a strong procurement team. His starting viewpoint is that “for a procurement team to function well you need two things: 1. Good people. 2. Everything else”.

His disclaimer is that “It’s absolutely true that good and efficient procurement is reliant on dozens of issues”, but he explains that “without the right procurement professionals in place, nothing significant can be achieved in the long term". He believes that in the current uncertain environment, it’s “more important than ever to have a high-performing, cost-effective workforce”, but stresses that “cost-effective does not mean understaffed”. It needs to be just as much about investing in the team that you have. He concludes:

“To use an analogy – if you buy a new car and don’t look after it, over time it’s going to deteriorate.  You might not get the performance you want; the value will drop and your initial investment will be wasted. The same is true of your procurement team. By getting in the right numbers, by providing support and training, and by focusing on specialist areas you can achieve great things.  And, most importantly, that success can continue for years to come.”

Audit Survey 2015 Matt Sisson

It’s the time of year that we start thinking about the annual BUFDG Audit Survey. It’s a useful tool for audit benchmarking across the sector, and is well-used by university audit committees. We’re planning to launch this year’s survey on the 19th January, with a closing date of the 30th January.

If you think that it might be your responsibility to complete this survey on behalf of your institution then please check with colleagues and ensure that you have the time and resources available during that period to submit a response.

If you’re new to the sector, you can download last year’s survey report to see the kinds of questions you’ll be asked, what information you’ll need to supply, and what your efforts will produce.

If you have any questions or thoughts in advance of the survey, please email Matt or call the office on 08452 415449. We hope to make the final report available around the middle of February.

5 HEPA training events Matt Sisson

There are still a number of places available on HEPA training courses in the New Year. The full list of events is:

Please note that if you are a CIPS member, any HEPA events or e-learning can count towards your Continuing Professional Development (CPD). CIPS offers an online CPD record system for you to record and track your activities and we are pleased that CIPS have confirmed that HEPA activities are definitely eligible CPD hours.

HEFCE guidance on 2015/16 postgraduate funding Matt Sisson

In the recent Autumn Statement the Chancellor announced that the government will introduce a loan scheme for postgraduates for 16/17. He also announced that, as a bridge to the new system, the government would provide £50million, repurposed from the National Scholarship Programme and matched by institutions, to support 10,000 postgraduate students for 15/16.

HEFCE has now written to institutions to outline the initial amount of funding each institution will be allocated, so that HEIs can begin to plan their approach. Only 90% of the total pot will be allocated at first, with the remaining 10% distributed following any institutional data queries, so that no allocations will have to be revised downwards.

The full details, including a timetable for implementation are on the HEFCE website. The next step is for HEIs to nominate a lead contact who should e-mail confirmation of their contact details to HEFCE by Friday 19 December 2014. They should also if possible plan to attend the briefing event on Thursday 8 January 2015 at Woburn House.

A new treasury management newsletter for the sector Matt Sisson

It’s been a while since BUFDG assembled a Treasury newsletter, but fortunately Finalysis have put their hand up to launch a monthly newsletter aimed at sector treasury professionals. The newsletter will be in email format, initially on a monthly basis, starting in January. Tim Wilding will be more than happy to receive your ideas for inclusion. Distribution will initially be from Finalysis’ own database.

If you’d like to subscribe, the please follow this link and enter your details. If you are listed but would prefer not to be, it’s a couple of clicks to unsubscribe.

Bits and bobs Matt Sisson

Your friendly sector Energy Consortium (TEC) have published a Christmas newsletter which includes a review of the year, and has news on the TEC conference, water market trends, and more. Read it here.  

The Committee of University Chairs (CUC) has launched a new code of governance this week. In his opening letter to the code, CUC Chair Sir Nick Montagu said that while the code does not overall offer major revisions, “stylistically the code is substantially different, and it is now much more concise. ” He hopes the code will play a role in “actively providing assurance in contributing to the defence of the sector from further legislative or regulatory creep”. The Times Higher covers the launch of the report.

Aberystwyth University will build a new £35million innovation and enterprise campus after winning £20million in European funding. “The campus is billed as a new state-of-the-art facility to attract further research funding so that companies and researchers can undertake collaborative research projects to boost the bio-economy”, Wales Online reports.

In other Welsh news, Education and Skills minister Huw Lewis has branded the £9,000 loan system in England ‘unsustainable’, but says he is reluctant to stop support for Welsh students who choose to study across the border. Interviewed for the Times Higher, he said; “If you’re a young person from Wales, we will look after you in terms of your ambitions and your life chances wherever you feel that should take you.”

HEFCE has launched a new framework for sustainability in Higher Education. The framework reviews HEFCE’s current role in improving sustainability in the sector, and sets out 16 actions they will take in areas such as reducing environmental impact, the green economy, and engaging students. You can read the publication here

The Leadership Foundation is awarding 9 universities with a share of £90,000 from its Innovation and Transformation Fund, for projects designed to create transformational change. This is the second round of projects to receive money from the fund, which was prompted by University UK's (UUK) 2011 Diamond report into efficiency and effectiveness in higher education.

Last but not least, our Job of the Week is for a Tax Manager at Loughborough University. The closing date for applications is the 9th of January.

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