25th February 2015

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10 Minutes With... Alison Holmes Dominic Fryer

Alison is the Director of Procurement at Durham University and is responsible for providing strategic leadership on all aspects of procurement across the entire institution.  Alison joined the University in April 2000, having previously worked for 23 years in the National Health Service in various strategic procurement roles. Read the interview here.

Efficiency savings of £153m in 2013/14 - EMM Matt Sisson

The Higher Education sector has saved £153million through procurement efficiencies during 2013-14, according to the results of the latest Efficiency Measurement Model (EMM) survey, undertaken in the Autumn of last year. NWUPC, which coordinated the model, has summarised the results in an article on its website. It finds that the improvement in procurement has been achieved through “arranging lower prices, improving the quality of the goods and services procured, and improving or streamlining processes to deliver savings.”

The EMM exercise was designed to evidence improvements in spend efficiency in HE, and to measure the sector’s progress against the challenges laid out by the first Diamond Review. Sir Ian Diamond’s final report on efficiency in the sector is due to be published shortly. Key findings of the exercise include:

  • £50m in efficiency savings through digital rather than paper transactions
  • £48m in savings via an 8% increase in spending through purchasing consortia
  • An increase in local collaborative purchasing – 54 institutions reported expenditure of over £295m through local arrangements compared with £285m in 2012-13
  • £16m saved through the use of purchasing cards 

R&D Expenditure Credit update from PwC Amanda Darley

BUFDG had a positive meeting about R&D Expenditure Credits ('RDEC') with HMRC this week, and we will provide a considered update regarding that meeting to those who are taking part in Wednesday's webinar. 

However, in the meantime, PwC has received some further assurance from HMRC that RDEC claims can be made by universities and that bringing the RDEC credit into account is compatible with not bringing the profits of the trade of a university into account for the purposes of the corporation tax exemption.  Thus making an RDEC claim and obtaining the exemption from corporation tax on profits are not mutually exclusive.

PwC believes that "this now provides a level of HMRC confirmation that should enable universities to proceed with claims for RDEC on both primary and non-primary purpose activities" (assuming that all the qualifying conditions for the research projects and the expenditure are met).

HEFCE funding decisions Matt Sisson

HEFCE has released details of its funding decisions for universities and colleges for 2015-16, following the BIS grant letter at the end of January. It also notifies institutions of the timetable for announcements of recurrent and formula capital grant for 2015-16 and of revised allocations of recurrent teaching grants for 2013-14 and 2014-15 (both are now the 25th March, embargoed until the 26th).

Of the funding details, the 2015-16 budget for research stays the same at £1.58billion. There are plenty of other details on the research funding in the letter, but one of the most significant changes is the increase in the relative quality weighting between 4* and 3* activity in the mainstream QR method from 3:1 to 4:1.

The recurrent grant for teaching decreases from £3.33billion to £3.13billion. 2015-16 is of course the first academic year of the full removal of the student number control for all HEFCE-funded institutions. In addition HEFCE has “brought to an end the three-stage recalculation process affecting the main elements of teaching grant, which was used between 2012-13 and 2014-15 to ensure funding reflected the changing balance within each institution of old- and new-regime students in each year.”

Collaborative Agresso VAT project Amanda Darley

Does your institution use Agresso? Are you concerned that the VAT set-up and related processes are not as good as they could be? If so, you are invited to register an interest in a collaborative project to address this issue.

The project will be driven by a number of institutions, working with a professional adviser, to develop an optimal solution for the VAT set-up, related processes, and VAT reporting functionality within Agresso. It is probable that the solution will be capable of being extended to other systems and therefore we would also be interested in hearing from the users of alternative systems. The solution developed will be provided to the members of the project, and post implementation testing and assurance also provided within the project scope.

The benefits to participating institutions will include:

  • A simplified and consistent approach to VAT recording
  • Enhanced institutional governance procedures through improvements in the accuracy of VAT compliance
  • A reduction in the time spent on VAT related activities

Further details will be provided in due course to institutions who register an interest by emailing Chris Bridgeman, University of Essex, by Friday 6 March 2015. 

Making fair financial decisions Guidance from EHRC Scotland Karel Thomas

Thank you to the ECU for bringing this to our attention - The Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland has published an updated guide Making fair financial decisions. It sets out what is expected of decision makers and leaders of Scottish public authorities responsible for delivering services at national, regional or local level, in order to make sure decisions are as fair as possible.

The public sector equality duty in Scotland supports public authorities to demonstrate that they are making financial decisions in a fair, transparent and accountable way, considering the needs and the rights of different members of the community.

This guidance will be useful to senior leaders and HR teams faced with reorganisations, relocations, redundancies and service reductions and may even be useful as a guide in other parts of the UK.

Are overseas student numbers sustainable? Matt Sisson

The post-deadline figures for student applicants for 2015/16 were published at the beginning of February by UCAS. The overall picture was positive with a 1% increase on last year from UK-based applicants, which rose to 2% once EU and International students were included. However there were also a few worrying statistics, including the widening gap between Male and Female applicants, with young women in England now 36% more likely to apply to university than their male counterparts.

In a blog post on the HEFCE website, Janet Ilieva, Head of Economic and Qualitative Research for HEFCE also suggests there are further causes for concern, particularly in relation to the international arena. She suggests that further overseas student numbers could be affected by the demographic decline in 18 year olds amongst EU member states, as well as continued decline in postgraduate students from established source-countries like India and Pakistan.

In addition, there is concern about the way that many students follow a path through transnational education at campuses in East Asia to full-time degree programmes in the UK. With many of these countries, such as China, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong looking to become a Higher Education hub in their own right, UK universities may find the sustainability of student growth from the region undermined. You can read more about these trends in the full article.

THELMAs - application deadline extended to 1st March Dominic Fryer

The Leadership and Management awards invite entries from the sector, and the deadline has been extended to Sunday 1st March. There are 16 different categories including Outstanding Finance team and Outstanding Procurement team. Your entry, of a maximum 500 words, should be made online here. Entry is free. The shortlists will be published on the THELMA site 16th April. The judging panel is made up from some highly-experienced and well-known members of our sector. You can read about them here.

We wish all who enter the best of luck.

The Million+ manifesto for universities Matt Sisson

With further details emerging this week that Labour is likely to propose a £3,000 tuition-fee cut, universities have become a surprise battleground in the run-up to the General Election. The think-tank Million+ have chipped-in to the debate with a Manifesto for Universities, which seeks to set out some principles for the sector that it would like to see the political parties adopt. It covers areas such as the undergraduate funding system, postgraduate participation, teaching and learning, and research and knowledge exchange.

On undergraduate funding it believes that treasury investment should be used to “provide direct taxpayer investment in higher education, ensuring that any contribution required from graduates is proportionate, transparent and fair”, while on research it wants to “increase the science and innovation budget so that the UK is in the top 10 of OECD countries for investment in research and development by 2020”. It also adds its voice to those calling to the removal of international students from net migration figures.

You can read the full set of proposals here

Other bits Matt Sisson

Welsh universities could fall behind their counterparts in the rest of the UK unless the funding system is changed, according to the head of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), Dr David Blaney. Interviewed by the BBC, he takes particular issue with the £90million lost to the HE sector in Wales as government fee funding follows Welsh students who choose to attend universities in the rest of the UK.

There are concerns in Scotland that Scottish students are being denied the opportunity for Higher Education by an increase in EU and International Students at Scottish universities. According to research compiled by Professor Robert Wright of Strathclyde University, the number of EU students at Scottish HEIs has more than doubled in the decade to 2012/13, whilst the number of international students has increased 78%. The figures are weighed against the recent decline in the proportion of Scottish students at the country’s major universities including Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Dundee.

Newcastle University has taken up the challenge of providing its students with an answer to the question “Where does my £9,000 go?” The result is an article in the student newspaper The Courier.

The full schedule of BDO’s free seminars for Not-for-profits has been published on their website. The schedule covers courses from January to July and includes seminars on the SORP, pensions, tax, audit, and more.

The Energy Consortium (TEC) is holding its 2015 conference for members and non-members on Wednesday 17 June 2015 at Birmingham Town Hall. A range of expert speakers will tackle the latest energy issues, and delegates will also have the opportunity to meet the TEC team, network with colleagues and suppliers, and get advice on how to manage energy, save money, and tackle rising energy costs. The event host is Declan Curry, who has worked at ABC News, LBC, BBC World News, and for various radio channels. For event information and bookings contact Sarah Quiney, Marketing and Business Development at TEC by email or telephone on 0121 483 1963.

Finally, our job of the week is for a Director of Research and Funding at Abertay University. The deadline is the 19th March. As always, if you’d like to advertise a job on the BUFDG website then all you need to do is send a link to where the job is advertised to Gill Birch. If the job is at a Higher Education Institution then the listing is free.

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