BUFDG Annual Report 2024

The Year of the BUFDG Review

BUFDG Annual Report 2023-24

We're trialling a new format for our Annual Report this year, so please expand any of the sections below to read more (feedback on the new format always welcome of course - email Amanda). The report is based on the year from March 2023 to February 2024. All quotes throughout are from BUFDG members, largely taken from responses to the BUFDG Review.

"A reputable, professional, intelligent sector body you can trust."

Watch our quick video highlights of the year, and then read more below.



Chair's Foreword

Message from the Executive Director

Outputs and Statistics

Advocacy, Liaison, and Collaboration

Major Projects

Working Groups and Networks



BUFDG Review

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Photo of Erica Conway, Chair of BUFDG and CFO of the University of Birmingham
Erica Conway Erica Conway, BUFDG Chair (CFO, University of Birmingham)

In last year’s annual report, while I hoped for an ‘easier’ year for all of us, it was with the caveat that perhaps we should keep expectations of that low. It has certainly not turned out to be an easy year for many. I anticipate there are more difficult years still to come for us all.

‘The only certainty is uncertainty’ seems to be the truism for this decade that began with a pandemic, brought war to Europe, has given us three prime ministers before we are even halfway through, and has seen a cost-of-living crisis drag on and on. Any predictions for the year or two ahead for the H E sector look murky and uncomfortable at best. With unexpected fluctuations in both home and international student recruitment already being felt this year all of us are having to take action to respond to that uncertainty. Universities and HEPs of all different shapes and sizes are announcing restructuring programmes, cutting courses and staff. And with a general election coming very soon, it’s a difficult and unsettling time, both for institutions and individual staff. However, we can be thankful that BUFDG is here to inform, guide, and, particularly at this time, support us.

BUFDG provides many services to its great variety of members. It is so much more than just a service provider. It provides training courses and learning opportunities in all sorts of technical topics as well as broader skills, but is more than just a training provider. It advocates on H E finance issues with other organisations and government departments but is more than just an advocate. It provides all sorts of networking opportunities and introductions to diverse groups within H E finance but is more than just a network.

BUFDG is a community. And we hope that everyone in every university/HEP finance team can find a place in that community.

BUFDG provides support, guidance, training, and networking to everyone in a finance-related role in H E, from CFOs to buyers, from tax managers to credit controllers, from DFDs to pensions managers, from treasurers to payroll assistants, and from research finance managers to financial accountants and business partners. There is something for everyone. It may be an e-learning course for every member of staff to remain legally compliant. One week it could be a discussion board post to ask if anyone has encountered a similar problem. Attendance at a Time to Talk session to hear the very latest updates on pressing issues (and raise equally pressing questions) in a safe environment is always valuable. We also get regular communications drawing our attention to topical issues and solutions, online meetings of individuals in a similar position from across the UK,  and multiple themed conferences to really get to know our peers. And for many of us, BUFDG team members have provided a sympathetic ear (or a shoulder to cry on) when needed. I am sure you will agree that is quite a list of deliverables from a small team and willing volunteers.

The BUFDG Review was a consultation with members, supporters, and other H E organisations in 2023. It achieved over 2,000 touch points through the various channels of communication, resulting in nearly 24,000 votes and comments. The information gathered really highlighted how BUFDG members throughout finance teams value all the different facets of BUFDG – including all the services provided by the BUFDG team, and the support and valuable input from other members.

85% of respondents felt that BUFDG is achieving its essential purpose to a high degree, and 91% of finance leaders rated BUFDG’s service as good value for money.

It was clear there is amazing value in BUFDG membership, and communicating that value more plainly is something that is being encapsulated in the BUFDG Member Value Proposition, to ensure that all members know what resources and support are available and relevant to them, and the value of it all.

The review also highlighted some areas for improvement and change, and the team is already working on incorporating these. You’ll find more details about the review work and improvements later in this report.

Whatever challenges the next few years will bring, we can be assured that BUFDG will be right there, in the midst of it all, guiding, supporting and experiencing it with us.



Photo of Karel Thomas, BUFDG Executive Director
Karel Thomas (MBE), BUFDG Executive Director

This time last year I was keeping a big secret. As some of you know from personal experience, a letter from the Cabinet Office asking you if you will allow the Prime Minister to drop your name to The King to be awarded a national honour, comes several weeks before the news is public. I could not have been more surprised to receive one myself in 2023 and see my name in the MBE section of the King’s Birthday Honours List. In March 2024, I was presented with the award for services to higher education by the Princess Royal at Windsor Castle. It was a wonderful occasion.

It’s important to say that I would not have achieved a fraction of what the award represents without the support and collegiality of British Universities Finance Directors  Group members, past and present, Chairs and committee members over the past 21 years, and the many supporters in organisations we work with. But most of all, the award is shared with my wonderful colleagues, whose efforts and dedication have led to the growth of BUFDG and Professional HE Services Ltd., the company that now provides a home to seven sector associations, enables us to share costs, provides us with support, and keeps us compliant.
The pandemic of 2020/21 changed many lives, including those of BUFDG members. I will dare to suggest that it led to increased stress, feelings of insecurity both on a personal and at an organisation level, and consequently to reviews of how things were done. I’d go further to suggest that many of the decisions to retire, move on, or refocus career were prompted by the global shock. The number of changes to names on our database has been phenomenal but unlike in the BC years, the chances to meet and get to know new colleagues face-to-face are now more limited. This is unfortunate to say the least. Surviving in today’s turbulent political and economic environment in which “crisis” seems to be the dominant word, requires extreme resilience and support from trusted friends and counsellors. Despite the reduction in face-to-face opportunities, we hope that BUFDG still provides that network of trusted peers and colleagues, as well as the support of BUFDG staff, so needed in these times of political and economic uncertainty.

Thank you for your enduring support of BUFDG and of each other. There has never been a greater need for it.

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Outputs and Stats

Over the past 12 months we have provided all the outputs listed in the boxes below - expand them to find out what...

"[BUFDG provides] specialist knowledge of the UK H E environment, helping to lead and shape our combined future. Great for relevant news, guidance and useful contacts." 

  • 5 annual conferences attended by 2,686 delegates: Finance Festival, Annual Meeting, TRAC Conference, Tax Conference, Management Accounting Week
  • 67 networking and working group meetings, attended by 1,527 delegates
  • 2 new networks/communities: Large HEPs group, and Research Finance community
  • 3,883 new members: 1,141 full accounts, and 2,742 e-learning accounts
  • 3,665 discussion board posts across 1,396 discussions, viewed 116,895 times

  • 15 training events for 416 delegates
  • 52 Time to Talk webinars attended by 2,649 members
  • 998 document resources have been downloaded 11,042 times
  • 818 resource content pages viewed 37,271 times
  • 74 webinar and conference session recordings and videos viewed 1,659 times
  • 44 e-learning courses, completed 4,375 times

  • 2 new working groups: Investment Management and Practice (IMP) Group, and Financial Sustainability And Climate Related Environmental Disclosures (SACRED) Group
  • 90 LinkedIn posts
  • 240 news articles on our website
  • 50 newsletters – BUFDG Digest, TaxHE, Chair’s Quarterly
  • Listed 792 job vacancies on our webpages
  • 7 surveys for member benchmarking and information

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Advocacy, Liaison, and Collaboration

Whilst BUFDG is not a lobbying organisation, one of the most important things we do is to connect the dots and link with other organisations outside of the finance sphere where issues are wider than just finance, as well as raising finance issues with appropriate organisations or government departments to try to solve them. Find out what we've been working on, and with whom, by expanding the box below.

"[BUFDG] represents and supports the sector.  It works for all of us raising the profile of our issues and making sure we are kept up to date. Helps promote comms between HEIs too." 

Over the past year we have worked on many issues with several other H E organisations, and advocated on a number of H E finance issues. This work includes:

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Major Projects

With Joni on board as our new Project Manager, we were able to work on some major projects throughout the past year, as well as the other projects mentioned in the working group sections. The BUFDG Review was also a major project this year and you can find out more about that at the end of this report.

BUFDG is leading on the creation of the new Statement of Recommended Practice, which will be required to reflect the revisions to Financial Reporting Standard (FRS) 102. KPMG has been contracted to undertake this work in collaboration with BUFDG and the Financial Reporting Group (FRG). The project is being managed by BUFDG’s Project Manager, Joni, and our FRG support, Peter Fielding (ex-Deputy Finance Director at Lancaster University).   

The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) extended the review period for feedback they received from FRED 82, which was published in 2023, and released FRS102 in March 2024. The effective from date is now 1 January 2026, meaning the FEHE SORP will be applicable to UK further and higher education institutions from the 2026/27 reporting year.   

An FRG working group will act 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 H E, F E, funding councils, and representatives from institutional groups such as UUK and the Association of Colleges (AoC).   

A consultation period is planned between January and March 2025, with the publication of the revised SORP in summer 2025.   

IFRS 16 and leases are the main changes for the sector. Therefore, reaching out to estates and procurement colleagues and collecting information on what leases are in place will be essential.   

As well as the production and adoption of an updated IFRS-based SORP 2026 document reflecting the changes to FRS 102 that are being implemented, updated model financial statements, guidance notes and training materials will be delivered.

In July 2023, AUDE (the Association of Higher Education Directors of Estates), BUFDG and the EAUC (the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education), with additional funding from the Department for Education, launched a Cost of Net Zero Calculator tool, together with a report ‘The Cost of Net Zero’, which sets the new tool in context and aims to help everyone in the sector understand the context, the scale, and the nature of the task.   

It follows the January 2023 publication of the ‘Accelerating towards net zero’ report from the same partnership group led by the Royal Anniversary Trust, and shares methodology with the earlier report.  

As many institutions are yet to set out costed and scheduled plans to decarbonise their operations to meet their Net Zero ambitions, the calculator provides a starting point to establish the information they need to model carbon target scenarios, help decide which actions to take, and estimate the costs and benefits. Staff from at least 125 BUFDG member institutions have downloaded the calculator or engaged with our online webinars to date, with the highest engagement among sustainability and estates teams. Early feedback suggests that the report and calculator have been a starting point for conversations and helped Higher and Further Education providers consider the steps, timeframes and implementations relevant to their estates and operations within the context of organisational Net Zero goals.
Sustainability consultants Energise will continue to provide technical support to users in the coming months as part of the 12-month contract and will undertake scheduled maintenance to incorporate updated Future Energy Scenarios (FES) data due for release in July 2024. During this period, we will assess the ongoing usefulness, relevance of, and engagement with the tool to inform the next steps on this project. 

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Working Groups and Networks

BUFDG's working groups are the engines of BUFDG - composed of members from a range of HEPs, and supported by BUFDG staff, these groups help set the agenda for BUFDG's work programme and contribute to and scrutinise the outputs. BUFDG's networks provide communities for members to share ideas, best practice and the latest updates with peers across the country. See what they've been up to this year by expanding the boxes below.

"The feeling of community - message boards, regional groups, annual conferences - makes you feel part of something bigger."

The BUFDG tax network continues to flourish! This year, we were pleased to welcome former BUFDG Chair, Sarah Randall-Paley (FD, Lancaster University) as the Chair of the National Tax Group. Members continue to engage with each other and BUFDG via a range of online and face-to-face meetings, discussion boards, webinars, and our e-learning packages. Regular quarterly meetings with HMRC’s H E team enable BUFDG to raise member concerns and highlight areas where clarification is needed.

We would like to thank all of the members and advisers who support the BUFDG tax network.

The latest BUFDG Tax Survey results were published (the first since 2018), with contributions from 65 member HEPs. They shared information on tax and software resources, preferred advisers, partial exemption methodology, HMRC relationship and, perhaps most importantly, the biggest tax issues they face: employment status (aka off-payroll working; aka IR35), on-going imports issues, and concerns regarding tax staff resources dominated the domestic scene. Global mobility, online learning, and digital taxes, were the main areas of concern internationally.

These results allow us to build a Time to Talk tax schedule focused on the main challenges faced by the sector, alongside ad hoc issues that occur throughout the year.

We’ve held roundtable discussions on a range of topics including tax automation, import issues, online learning, open access, clinical trials, and fuel and power, which have proved very popular with members, helping to strengthen networks, share best practice, and assisting members to prioritise issues.

We’ve launched the following tax-related guidance, reports, documents, and e-learning for members over the past year:

VAT: International Organisations flowchart

VAT: Clinical trials summary

VAT: Updated the Making Education Digital Spreadsheet

Imports: In-depth e-learning package on Import Duty and Import VAT Reliefs

HEPA welcomed a new Chair in early 2024 – Cathy Burleigh (CFO of Oxford Brookes University). Cathy succeeds Andrew Hewett (CFO of Manchester Metropolitan University) in the role, and we thank Andrew for his contribution to HEPA and the H E procurement profession.

The past twelve months have been exceptionally busy for procurement colleagues, especially for those working in Contracting Authorities in scope of the upcoming Procurement Act. HEPA sits on the transforming public procurement learning and development working group, is the transforming public procurement implementation lead, and is the single point of contact with the Cabinet Office for our sector. We have been delighted to host the Cabinet Office team responsible for implementing the new regime at our Head of Procurement turnover group meetings, as well as arranging technical legal updates with legal providers on the Procurement Act for our members.

The Procurement Value Survey (PVS) documented an impactable spend of over £7bn in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, with members achieving total gross efficiencies of £326m. The Head of Procurement Survey collected useful information for members relating to procurement team structure, training, processes, tools, challenges, and priorities. In addition, HEPA also ran a survey into three hot topics for colleagues – Contracting Authority status, procurement thresholds and net-zero scope 3 targets.

Responding to member needs, HEPA hosted a series of round-table discussions on issues ranging from travel to procurement cards, and universities as Contracting Authorities to overseas agents. HEPA also hosted two in-person learning and networking events in London and Wolverhampton, for those beginning their careers in higher education procurement.

The Responsible Procurement Group has been refreshed in partnership with EAUC; sub-groups are focusing on circular economy and waste reduction, scope 3 measurement and reporting, social responsibility, and supplier assurance. In partnership with members and UKUPC the Higher Education Supply Chain Emissions Tool (HESCET) was refreshed and released at version 3.9.

The L and D Group had a leadership change with Craig Jones (CFO at Aston) now being joined by Paul Gowdridge (CFO at Leicester) as co-chair of the group. We are currently assessing any specialism gaps we have in the group and hope to recruit another couple of members to enhance our team - any volunteers are welcome!  

We’re working through the CPD accreditation for our training which helps us support members to meet the recent changes in CPD requirements from the accounting bodies. This was highlighted as part of the BUFDG Review, and over half (28) of our e-learning courses have been CPD certified to date, with more currently being assessed. We will then be moving on to our training courses and conferences.

The updated Future Finance Leaders work will support our senior leaders and any aspiring leaders, in turn helping to develop the H E talent pipeline.  

Whilst we will maintain the existing events (which in some cases saw their highest numbers of delegates over the past year), following the BUFDG Review we want to go back to basics a little to ensure any existing resources and activities are being utilised effectively. For some, networking will be more critical now than ever and creating accessible, supportive networks will be a priority this year, for example, the new Student Income and Collection Working Group has developed as a result of increased challenges faced by members in this area, and the level of support in this community has been wonderful to see. Following member feedback we’re also enhancing our governance training offering with new e-Learning courses on ‘Conflict of Interest’ and ‘Compliance for Senior Leaders’ to be launched soon.

We continue to work with our colleagues in Professional Higher Education Services Ltd SIOs and will develop further activities this year to create shared learning across the different professional services functions.

This new working group was formed in July 2023 to support Finance Directors/CFOs in their role as executive managers of universities’ investment funds, to identify and share best practice, and to explore universities’ obligations as charitable organisations. A number of short-form guides on key topics are in progress.  

Membership includes FDs, CFOs and Sustainability Directors from across the sector, as well as representatives from SOS-UK, Jisc, and EAUC.  

ESG issues and responsible investment have featured heavily in discussions so far and emerged as a priority area. To help universities align their investment strategy with their climate ambitions, Cazenove and BUFDG have been collaborating on a report on ‘Net zero investments: a guide for universities’ which offers practical guidance and case studies and is due for publication in May 2024. 

In January 2024, BUFDG invited the banking engagement team from the University of Cambridge to host a webinar outlining their plans to incentivise banking and fund management institutions to make positive moves towards avoiding contributing primary market financing to firms that are engaging in fossil fuel expansion. Following the webinar, the University of Cambridge launched a Request for Proposals (RfP), co-signed by over 50 fellow UK higher education institutions. The RfP aims to move cash products towards banks and fund managers that are not financing fossil fuel expansion. This initiative is spearheaded by University of Cambridge CFO, Anthony Odgers, Head of Group Treasury, Heather Davis, and Anthony's Special Adviser on Responsible Investment, Dr Ellen Quigley. The hope is to encourage policy and practical changes, enabling the H E sector to contribute directly to climate change mitigation through influence or 'handprint', and reducing the need to switch away from existing banking arrangements.

The Counter-Fraud Working Group released the results of its bi-annual H E sector Fraud Survey in December 2023. The survey assessed risk, response, roles, culture, detection, investigation and reporting.

Working with We Fight Fraud, BUFDG hosted a Time to Talk session exploring Anti-Money Laundering and made useful resources available to members to help them navigate this complex issue. In addition, BUFDG hosted further Time to Talk sessions covering topics ranging from payments to Nigeria to ISA 240 and other changes to the regulatory landscape, as well as producing resources on topics such as sanctions compliance. 

BUFDG continues to work with government bodies and other agencies to help members prepare for upcoming legal changes in the counter-fraud space, such as the failure to prevent fraud offence.

BUFDG’s first Research Finance Forum was held in June 2023, and attracted over 150 attendees. A task and finish group was established to address some of the challenges faced around timesheets and reporting and has resulted in the establishment of a close relationship with the Audit and Compliance Special Interest Group within ARMA (the Association of Research Managers and Administrators).  

The BUFDG review highlighted a long-term need to support the research finance community. Therefore the Research Finance group will be formalised in 2024 to provide support, networking, and resources in this area. Joni will be supporting this work, taking advantage of her background as a Research and Innovation Officer and her ongoing Research Management qualification with ARMA.  

BUFDG and Vialto have been working on compliance considerations for international fellowships, a comprehensive guide to support those working in research, finance, or Human Resources roles, and managing fellowship awards.  

Some changes in our employment duties and global mobility offering have already been implemented, including a restructuring (and renaming) of the Payroll and Employment tax Group meetings, and some new sessions encouraging discussion with other members, without advisers present – these monthly ‘surgeries’ on employment status, employment taxes, and global mobility have proved extremely popular. Julia has used intel from these sessions to respond to areas where further support is needed, for example, setting up a working group for universities involved in CERN, and we will shortly be setting up a Teams channel for individuals wanting to discuss specific employment status decisions to easily chat and share documents etc.

We’ve launched the following employment tax and global mobility-related guidance, reports, documents, and e-learning for members over the past year:

Payroll: H E Expenses Benchmarking report

Global mobility: CERN Guidance for employees

Global Mobility/Pensions: Expanded the guidance on overseas pensions implications for globally mobile staff to include Ireland

Payroll: Guidance on Payment Settlement Agreements


The last year has seen an increase in activity relating to environmental/sustainability disclosures in Finance Statements. In the second half of 2023 we formed a group [Financial Sustainability And Climate Related Environmental Disclosures (SACRED)] to help us gain a broader understanding of how the proliferation of various corporate and public climate reporting standards might impact on Higher Education. We were also grateful to be able to learn from a number of excellent sessions at the 2024 Finance Festival, including one from Grant Thornton, on sustainability reporting requirements, and one from the Energy Systems Catapult on funding decarbonisation of campuses).

While there is little in the way of mandatory reporting requirements for the sector at the moment, the direction of travel is clear. In conjunction with the FRG, we’ll be looking to keep ahead of developments throughout 2024, and support members with signposting and the development of resources. If this is an area of work that interests you, and you’d like to be more involved, please get in touch with Matt.

The Annual Meeting in May 2023 provided an opportunity to gather finance leaders from ‘larger’ Higher Education Providers (those with a turnover over £100m) for the first time, as part of the fringe events added to the programme. The meeting was well received, and the BUFDG review highlighted significant support for this group to continue.  

Thanks to the efforts of Simon Newitt (formerly at Northumbria University), Alison Jarvis (University of Southampton), and Ryan Keyworth (Sheffield Hallam University), the Larger HEPs group was formalised in January 2024 and will continue to meet three times per year.  

The aim of this group is to serve as a platform for finance leaders of larger Higher Education Providers (HEPs) to identify common challenges and opportunities, exchange ideas, and build a collective voice to influence positive change within the sector. Having this network is of particular benefit to CFOs/FDs in larger HEPs not in any specific mission group but is not limited to those HEPs. This new group complements the existing Smaller HEPs group.

This group continues to provide senior finance leaders in HEPs with a turnover up to £100m with a great support and networking community. Formed as an online group back in 2020, the group met in-person for the first time at the BUFDG Annual Meeting in Leeds in May 2023, and is looking forward to another in-person meeting at this year’s event in Birmingham. The group also met online in September/October 2023 and January 2024 (with two meetings held each time to ensure manageable numbers for a good discussion and to allow for members’ differing schedules). 

Useful presentations were provided to the group throughout the year with updates from UUK, UCEA, BUFDG specialists, audit providers, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Barclays Bank, and Unity Trust and Triodos banks, as well the opportunity for helpful discussions among members about various topics and issues that affect smaller HEPs. 

The group has been brilliantly co-chaired by Stephen Belderbos (Director of Finance and Planning, Norwich University of the Arts), Lynn Forrester-Walker (formerly CCO, Hartpury University) and Phil Harding (formerly Director of Finance and Estates, Trinity Laban Conservatoire). We are grateful to colleagues who have now moved on and welcome volunteers to fill the gaps.

As well as meeting up at the 2023 Annual Meeting in May, we’ll also be meeting online again in September/October, so if you’re a senior finance leader in a smaller HEP, look out for an invitation to that dropping into your inbox once we’ve arranged the dates.

This group has recently been created following the increased demand for further discussion and guidance for members working in this area. Whilst we previously provided relevant events and Time to Talks, the need for a group dedicated to talking about relevant issues became clear, and this need was also identified as part of the BUFDG Review.

The group recently appointed Tammy Tams, Director of Financial Operations at Coventry University, as the Chair, with Rachel at BUFDG supporting her and a further 14 members in the group. The initial objectives of the SICM Working Group are to identify shared issues and create more targeted support, find better ways to share current approaches across the sector to enable the identification of ‘better practice’ and to strengthen the Income Collection network.  

These regional meetings are already an established part of BUFDG membership, and we have recently looked at how to strengthen this network further. We have a chair (or chairs) for each region which is invaluable in ensuring the most relevant topics are on the agenda.

There is still the debate about whether the meetings should be online or face-to-face, and as a result the meetings manifest differently in different regions depending on member preferences. As always, we welcome members from any region to each meeting, and in fact this often offers something  a little different. We’ve seen a greater level of engagement this year, possibly testament to current challenges, and it has been heart-warming to see the level of support members give to each other during these meetings.

At the end of the 2022-23 financial year, the FRG provided two financial statements webinars for members, attended by 249 members from 140 member HEPs (and a further 104 views of the recording).

BUFDG and the FRG are leading on the creation of the new Statement of Recommended Practice, which will be required to reflect the revisions to Financial Reporting Standard (FRS) 102. Find out more in the earlier section on major projects.

During 2023-24, support for the FRG passed from PHES Financial Operations Manager and FRG stalwart, Karen Newcombe, to Peter Fielding (ex-Deputy Finance Director at Lancaster University). Karen is now retiring from PHES, and we thank her for her many years of excellent support of the FRG.

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You can view BUFDG's Statement of Accounts for the year ending 31 July 2023 below. 

With BUFDG reserves recovering well since the pandemic, in excess of the PHES required level of reserves, we made the decision with the Exec to operate a deficit budget in 2022/23 and 2023/24 by increasing spend on projects and consultancy and employing a new Project Manager to help us deliver these. That was a good decision as Joni has proved to be an excellent addition to the team, driving projects forward, getting involved in member-facing work, and providing fantastic member value.

Since setting our deficit budgets, we received the new SORP project fee proposals which were far in excess of the funding previously set aside for this several years ago. The cost of this project will therefore make a significant dent in BUFDG’s excess reserves, running them down more quickly than anticipated. We have therefore set long term budgets that will enable us to return to a balanced budget by the time we run down the excess reserves, including gathering the funding needed for the next SORP over the period of the next few years via a small annual charge to all member HEPs. This means that we will still operate a deficit budget for the next few years but with plans that reduce that deficit each year, partly by reducing spend on external consultancy and e-learning content, until we reach a balanced budget.

The pre-tax deficit for 2022/23 was £15,157 and we expect a pre-tax deficit of approximately £10,200 for the 2023/24 financial year.

Despite the current excess reserves position (much of which will be used by the SORP project over the next couple of years) and due to the commitment to cover core costs with subscription income, we will be increasing subscription fees for 2023/24. For the past three years subscription increases have been below inflation or frozen, but this year we will be making a graduated increase to subscription fees, with larger institutions paying higher increases, and a new band for very large institutions created. (See the section below on the BUFDG Review Recommendations for more details).

Subject to confirmation therefore, rates for 2024/25 will be:

Turnover band

Subscription rate for UK HEPs

Standard £ excl. VAT

Inc. BUFDG Pro £ excl. VAT


Turnover >£750 millions




Turnover >£400 millions




Turnover >£200 millions




Turnover >£100 millions




Turnover >£25 millions




Turnover >£10 millions




Turnover <£10 millions




To ensure BUFDG remains on a stable financial footing, we also plan to introduce a small annual SORP charge in the future (with effect from August 2025, not August 2024). This will enable us to set these funds aside to ensure the next SORP project can be properly funded. The proposed SORP charge from 2025/26 will be set aside in the accounts for when the next HEFE SORP is required. The current proposal is to set this fee at less than £250 per year per member institution from 2025/26.

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Find out more about BUFDG and its umbrella company, Professional HE Services Ltd (PHES), by selecting the links below.

You can also expand the sections see our three strategic objectives, take a look at our current risks and challenges, read this year's staff profile of our Events Manager, Gill, and an operational update.

"[BUFDG is like] an additional team member." 


You can read more about the structure of PHES by following the link below, but perhaps the biggest benefit is the collaboration between staff from different Special Interest Organisations within PHES (AUDE, AULP, BUFDG [inc. HEPA], CHEIA, CUBO, HESPA, and UHR). As there are many similarities between membership organisations, the joint initiatives and familiarity of staff allows each of the organisations to learn and benefit from all the others. We often work on joint projects with other PHES organisations, and there are joint PHES team meetings three times a year, as well as multiple working groups to facilitate the cross-PHES benefits on specific issues.

Our Strategic Objectives:

BUFDG aims to support university finance managers and their teams by providing them with up-to-date information, analysis, guidance, and comment on financial news, strategy, and management in H E by: 

  • being the leading source of information, comment, and support on finance matters in the H E sector, including procurement and tax; 
  • promoting high standards and best practice in H E finance departments, to help them deliver value to all stakeholders; and 
  • working with members to provide solutions to common H E finance issues and challenges.

Despite the increasing emphasis on competition between universities, the collegial culture of UK higher education can be harnessed for the advantage of the whole sector without contravening competition law through: 

  • providing forums for networking, discussion, consultation, and exchange; and 
  • providing and signposting appropriate opportunities for learning and development.

BUFDG will lead and catalyse partnership working among the wide range of professional associations, think-tanks, mission groups, and membership organisations, in the best interest of all its members. Before launching any project or service, BUFDG will ask, “who can we work with?” We will:

  • work in partnership with related organisations, regionally and nationally;
  • work collaboratively with supporters of and suppliers to the HE sector in the best interests of our members; and
  • advocate and influence on behalf of all our members to government, policy makers, and external stakeholders.

Current Risks and Challenges:

In general, BUFDG remains in a relatively strong position, and continues to benefit from stable staffing, finances, and support from members. The team is unchanged with nobody leaving or joining the team during 2023-24.

The BUFDG review (see more below) has highlighted how valuable members find the BUFDG service, how helpful they find the team, and how vital the BUFDG/HEPA network of members is to many staff in H E finance and procurement teams. 

We are very aware of the financial challenges facing our member HEPs at present and recognise that this could have an impact on BUFDG. We have seen two mergers within the sector already this year, and if more emerge over the coming year(s) this could impact our subscriptions income. While we also recognise the risk that HEPs may consider ceasing their BUFDG membership to help cut their own costs, we hope that the value of the service we provide far exceeds the subscription paid, and therefore such decisions will not be common. We do, however, need to be prepared for this possibility.

As a small organisation the loss of key staff is a constant consideration, and one thing highlighted in the review is the need for succession plans for the Executive Director role, (although Karel isn’t going anywhere soon!). This will be an item that we keep under review with the BUFDG Exec. 

Staff Updates:


Photo of Gill Birch, BUFDG's Events Manager
Gill Birch, Events Manager

I’m thrilled to take the prize* for the longest-serving member of BUFDG staff (yes, I even pre-date Karel!).

Since starting in December 2000 (when our base was the University of East Anglia), BUFDG’s reputation within the sector has grown massively. I’m so privileged to work with a great team who have such a huge amount of knowledge and expertise between them, which has greatly enhanced what we offer to our members. From a small team of just Karel and myself (soon joined by Matt), we have slowly, over almost 25 years, grown to a team of nine - not forgetting, of course, the valuable support offered by our PHES colleagues in Membership (Jemma & Ruth), IT (Alex and Scott) and our amazing MD, Dominic, who keeps the PHES ship on course).

Those of you that know me will recognise that I’m all about Events! It’s a far cry from the early 2000s when I oversaw perhaps 20 events a year – it’s now practically 20 every month (especially with all the fantastic Time to Talks we are able to offer) along with Deputy FD meetings, working groups, regional tax groups, international tax surgeries and Payroll and Employment, and other network meetings, to name but a few.  

I guess it’s inevitable that due to all the changes over recent years our in-person events are fewer and further between these days, and I do miss seeing our lovely members on a more regular basis. (As any parent knows, you should never pick a favourite, but … 🤫 it’s the Tax Conference). Nevertheless, we have adapted with the times and I think we have found a good balance in what we offer our members today (in both content and media), particularly in the fresh challenges that the HE sector faces – I do hope you agree 🙂

*What do you mean, there is no prize??


Photo of Amanda Darley, BUFDG's Head of Operations and Engagement
Amanda Darley, Head of Operations and Engagement


The earlier sections of this report include lots of information on what we’ve done throughout 2023-24 (especially the working groups and networks, and the outputs and stats regarding of we’ve published this year), but I’m looking back on how we’ve done things.

Much of our time and effort in 2023-24 was dedicated to gathering and analysing data and feedback from the BUFDG review in order to enhance our services and maximise member value. This has been key to shaping updates and improvements and our initiatives for the future (and you can find out more about it below).

Following up on launching the new website in 2022-23, we realised we weren’t keeping it as fresh and useful as it could be. So, recognising the importance of staying current and accessible, we implemented new processes to ensure our website content remains up to date and relevant, serving as a valuable resource for our members and the wider higher education sector.

Having previously ditched Twitter/X (it wasn’t the right social media platform for BUFDG), and now ceasing the Chair’s Quarterly, we increased our LinkedIn presence as a way to regularly communicate and engage with others. Regular postings on the BUFDG LinkedIn page have helped us stay connected with members, the wider H E sector, and supporters. If you’re on LinkedIn, follow our page here.

We consolidated and refined new offerings trialled during the previous year, with the revised format of the Annual Meeting for CFO/FD members now serving as a cornerstone event for networking, knowledge exchange, and professional development. By enhancing the format with our ‘fringe’ meetings for ‘mission’ groups the day before the plenary sessions, we ensured that attendees gained maximum value from the event, fostering a sense of community and collaboration among senior finance professionals in higher education.

We progressed the revamp of our existing e-learning courses (while also adding new ones) to make them more accessible and engaging, creating a learning environment that caters to different learning styles and needs, allowing members to enhance their skills and expertise at their own pace (not to mention satisfying their CPD requirements).

We continued to prioritise team cohesion and collaboration with our monthly in-person meetings. Despite the team being spread over 200 miles, the meetings are a hit - we all find them invaluable for fostering team wellbeing, facilitating collaboration, idea-sharing, and knowledge sharing.

The year ahead:

Looking ahead, we're keeping our ears open for more feedback and keeping an eye on what's happening in the industry. We’ll continue implementing the changes that came out of the review, and, as ever, we'll keep tweaking and improving things to make sure BUFDG remains as helpful and relevant for our members as possible.

We will be continuing to implement changes and improvement identified in the BUFDG review, including a website personalisation project to bring your most relevant content to your attention, considering the cost/benefits of introducing a mobile app, and testing out using MS Teams channels for some of our networks (and if they prove successful, rolling these out to more networks).

We will also be refreshing the BUFDG Strategy and compiling a new strategic plan during 2024-25.

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The BUFDG Review

We spent a lot of time last year talking to and surveying members, supporters, allies, and staff about what BUFDG does, and how it does it, as well as what it should do, and how it could do things better. We gathered a wealth of information, and after analysing it all we reported back to the BUFDG Exec. Expand the section below to discover what we found out from members and others, and how we are actioning it.

You can also find out more below about our advocacy and collaboration this year.

"It's a very effective glue that does what it needs to well and brings all the parts of the HEI Community together with a significant bond."

BUFDG’s origins lie back in the 1980s with Finance Directors meeting annually at a conference organised by a nominated member. Since its enlargement in 1993 to support finance leaders of a bigger group that included former polytechnics now with university status, it has evolved to become a membership organisation that provides services and support to over 8,000 finance staff within 185 Higher Education Providers (HEPs) nationally, employing 9 people (8.28 FTE) directly and underpinned by the staffing and infrastructure of the Professional HE Services ‘umbrella’.

The priorities of the organisation have evolved alongside the changing sector landscape, and the breadth of the activities has grown with the size and scale of the membership. No comprehensive evaluation of what and how BUFDG delivers has been undertaken in its history.

The BUFDG 2023 review sought to consider all aspects of BUFDG, evaluate the current offering, and make recommendations for the future to ensure it is meeting members’ needs and operating sustainably.

The review was conducted between March and November 2023 by an internal team, with the support of the BUFDG Executive Committee.

Extensive stakeholder engagement throughout this period resulted in over 2,000 interactions, providing feedback on BUFDG activities, services, staff, technology, resources, and identity. Further internal analysis was undertaken to evaluate systems, data, processes, finances, and team roles and responsibilities.

The review found that BUFDG is achieving its ‘essential purpose’ to a high degree, and that finance leaders considered BUFDG membership excellent value for money, an important advocate for the sector, and an invaluable source of support, networking, and knowledge. It was clear that there has been a significant expansion of services in recent years, which reflects the diversification and growing size of the membership.

The landscape in which BUFDG operates is complex, changeable, and uncertain, but this provides continuing opportunities to provide essential support to members facing similar challenges.

Member feedback suggested that tax, payroll, global mobility, and financial accounting/reporting are well supported as areas of special interest, and the BUFDG team were found to be generally knowledgeable about the H E sector and related finance and procurement issues. However, there is potentially not enough support and/or resources in the areas of credit control, procurement, research finance, financial and accounting systems, subsidiary company management, and insurance.

There were no services, activities, or events that could be clearly identified as not valued by members and therefore candidates for cessation, although CFO/FD regional meetings in England have been poorly attended in recent years leading us to question their value in this format. No additional major revenue streams were identified as feasible at this time, though some minor revenue streams have been suggested, and feedback confirmed that members do not want to see a return to commercial sponsorship of events.

Additionally, there is a range of new initiatives that members would like to see including new groups, increased personalisation of services, and website improvements.

The review process led to the several recommendations:

Changes to CFO/FD meetings and support –

In progress: regional CFO/FD meetings in England have ceased; we are now providing subject-specific Time to Talk sessions for senior finance leaders; we support the new Larger HEPs group and the existing Smaller HEPs group.

To action: we will engage more with PAs/EAs to improve efficiency for CFOs/FDs; we will establish which of our CFO/FD members have a wider remit than finance and investigate opportunities to support them; and we will provide enhanced reporting on BUFDG services and engagement to CFOs/FDs and Deputy FDs.

More awareness for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland –

In progress: we have identified specific BUFDG staff members (Scotland: Amanda; Wales: Matt; Northern Ireland: Andrea) to support these regions to ensure BUFDG’s focus is not solely on England.

Communications –

In progress: the Chair’s Quarterly has ceased and been replaced by LinkedIn content promoting news articles and blogs; a new weekly email setting out everything that has been added to the BUFDG website during the previous week is being sent to all Deputy FDs.

To action: while we will not specifically set out to share information with the sector press etc., we will set up a comms panel of CFOs/FDs to call upon when we need to comment on specific topics; and we will improve our emails and newsletters to members, providing a distinct identity to different communications, and exploring systems available to us to determine the most effective way of delivering our emails to members.

Improvements to the website and technology –

In progress: a number of minor changes to the way some of our webpages look to make the functionality easier and more obvious; several ‘behind the scenes’ changes to how we operate to make our work more efficient, particularly in keeping the website up to date.

To action: personalisation of web content will be introduced, and we will review and improve some of the areas that members find most frustrating; we will trial MS Teams channels for a small number of groups; and we will try to find automations or AI solutions to improve efficiency in internal BUFDG processes.

Service levels –

To action: in order to improve the quality of our services and support the new services members have requested, we propose to reduce the volume of services in certain areas which have increased substantially in recent years.

New groups –

In progress: we support the newly formed groups - Larger HEPs, Research finance, Investment Management and Practice (IMP), and Financial Sustainability and Climate-Related Environmental Disclosures (Financial SACRED).

To action: we will consider the demand, need, and resource for a pensions group.

Executive Committee –

In progress: the composition of the BUFDG Executive Committee has changed to reflect the changes to our groups, including the cessation of English regional meetings for CFOs/FDs and the creation of new groups.

Increased communication of BUFDG’s advocacy work –

In progress: we are giving more focus to our advocacy work in regular communications such as the Digest and the BUFDG Annual Report.

To action: we will address the lack of visibility of BUFDG’s advocacy work through a specific webpage clearly setting out what we are working on.

Mentoring –

To action: we will focus on encouraging CFOs/FDs to sign up as mentors to help develop Deputy FDs, and assess whether to continue with the mentoring software, or use a simple manual matching process.

Events –

In progress: we have monitored and investigated event no-shows to determine where our events are not providing what members need so we can focus only on the most valuable events; we reduced the number of parallel sessions at the Finance Festival; and we are continuing with the ‘new’ format for the Annual Meeting and combining it with the AGM in 2024.

Member value proposition (MVP) –

To action: we will publish a clear MVP for institutional and individual members to demonstrate the value that BUFDG provides, and to enable members to get the most out of their membership.

Changes to band levels and rebalancing of subs between the bands –

To action: to enable more useful analysis, to recognise how our membership has changed with the very small and very large HEPs at either end of our banding structure, and to make the subscription levels correspondingly more equitable, we have proposed changes to some of the band thresholds (including a new Band 7 for HEPs with a turnover >£750m), and a one-off graduated increase in subs for 2024/25 (i.e. the subs rise increases the higher the turnover of the HEP).

New SORP-specific sub –

In progress: the fee for the current SORP work is creating a significant dent in the BUFDG budget and reserves over 2023/24 and 2024/25, so in order to put future SORP work on a sustainable footing, we propose a small annual SORP-specific charge/sub from 2025/26 for all member HEPs, to build up a ringfenced fund specifically for future SORP costs.

Other budget changes –

In progress: to address the shortfalls in BUFDG’s budget created by the current SORP costs and recent increased staffing, we have proposed budgets to the Executive Committee which bring the BUFDG budget back to a small surplus by 2031 while also using up the excess reserves. (As part of PHES Ltd BUFDG is required to hold a specific level of reserves).

There were aspects of the review that were inconclusive or too complex to be fully considered within the timescale, but that clearly need further thought and action. We will follow up on the following topics as ‘part two’ of the review over the rest of 2024:

  • Improving and making better use of membership insights and engagement data.
  • Possible extra services for members, including consideration of a pensions group, and a personalised member ‘journey’ for new members.
  • Reviewing the ‘finance year’ in H E in relation to BUFDG’s calendar of events etc.
  • HEPA – satisfaction with HEPA was not as high as with the rest of BUFDG, and although the review showed a desire among members for more resource and more services from HEPA, it did not indicate any clear way to provide or fund this. HEPA requires further in-depth consideration.

The review also touched on areas that will require consideration in the not-too-distant future:

  • General staffing and support for particular areas of finance where our current support is not as strong as other areas.
  • Executive Director succession planning.
  • Additional revenue streams.
  • A refreshed BUFDG strategy.
  • BUFDG’s name/identity.


One of the main things that came through was that BUFDG is excellent value for money – but we want to make sure you are getting the absolute best value for your money, and so we’re compiling our BUFDG Member Value Proposition to ensure that all members know what we do, what services are available, what is relevant to you personally, as well as to your institution, and what the value of all that is.

And you can expand the box below to see what a selection of our CFO/FD members said when we asked them why they pay BUFDG's subs.

“To be part of something bigger - access to knowledge, resources, expertise and (most importantly) like-minded individuals who can support each other in challenging times.”

“As a smaller organisation it's a way to keep up to date on the widest range of issues very cost-effectively.”

“Excellent value for networking and for team access to resources, including training.”

“I would pay [the] subs for the Digest and Friday email [alone] but overall the resources available are fantastic.”

“Invaluable source of information and support to my institution, myself, and my staff.”

“[I] value the sector wide view and expertise provided.”

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