BUFDG Digest 22 November

22 November 2023      Amanda Darley, Head of Operations and Engagement


The Chancellor will give his Autumn Statement at 12:30 this afternoon. As usual, there will be a myriad of webinars and other coverage available from different sources, several of which have been helpfully listed by Andrea. Even more helpfully, Andrea and Julia will be pulling together the main changes that could affect the H E sector, over the next few days; but what are they (and various tax bodies) wishing for? Find out on their wish list here.



With today being the deadline for the sign-off date for the Jisc/HESA Data Futures return, and with confusion over student data and the Data Futures project continuing, you may well currently be in discussions about extensions to deadlines etc. with the OfS. Wonkhe has several articles looking at the current data problems – one looking at the current state of and the delays to Data Futures, one demonstrating how H E data impacts other areas of government policy, and one looking at the skills crisis in H E data and the huge pressures H E data professionals are currently under. Whatever else you take away from discussions with OfS and these articles, remember the immense effort that H E data staff have been putting into the current returns and changes, and ‘show them some love’.

The SFC has issued a short (3-page!) overview report summarising the findings of three 2023 reports looking at the impact of research carried out in Scottish universities on society and the economy. The report shows that: Scottish research received an impressive 80% more citations in academic papers than the global average; Scotland is a key international collaborator with over half of Scottish research relating to UN Sustainable Development Goals carried out with international partners; and that public investment channelled into research by the Scottish Funding Council supports at least 8,900 full-time equivalent jobs, £590 million in sales of goods and services produced in Scotland, and contributes £410 million contribution to the Scottish economy measured as Gross Value-Added.

The Times Higher Education has published an article looking at bringing teaching and research back into a single government department, following up on Nicola Dandridge’s July report for HEPI on the relationship between teaching and research in UK universities. The THE article quotes Sir David Bell, VC of the University of Sunderland and former permanent secretary at the DfE, saying ‘I would certainly bring higher education back under a single government department' because the sector consists of 'many varied and autonomous institutions – from research-intensive universities to research-active ones, with an “almost infinite variety in between”’.

Degree apprenticeships are discussed in very different ways in a Wonkhe blog looking at how to improve the apprenticeship levy rules to improve completion rates (including helping apprentices who are made redundant, or even those who are promoted, and thus unable to continue), and an FE Weekly article which states that the chancellor has ‘drawn up plans to restrict the use of levy funding for degree-level apprenticeships’ due to the huge rise in costly level 6 and 7 apprenticeships for older employees, but Skills Minister Robert Halfon insists there were ‘no talks about imposing controls on levy spending’. We should find out who won that battle this afternoon when the chancellor gives his Autumn Statement...

Degree apprenticeships also make it into BDO’s ‘Looking Forwards – Higher Education Institutions’ report from October, which covers a wide range of issues impacting the sector from funding, international outlooks, and lack of degree apprenticeships, to the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (a loan by any other name), financial reporting, and tax matters.


A HEPI blog this morning, authored by Susanna Kalitowski, Head of Policy at University Alliance, sets out four cost-neutral ways to alleviate universities’ financial woes: increasing student maintenance support; resetting immigration policy, targets and statistics so the UK can welcome more international students; reforming pensions rules, in particular around TPS which is set to cost the 80 affected universities £125m per year from April; and cutting red tape, particularly around degree apprenticeships.

Mills & Reeve has started a blog series looking at university financial resilience. The series, written by a cross-disciplinary team of Mills & Reeve lawyers, will look at practical steps universities can take, covering in particular: stakeholder management; governance; collaboration – both informal (don’t forget how sector bodies such as BUFDG can help with this) and more formal mergers and other collaboration; making your assets work harder; and student accommodation.

Speeches from OfS Chief Executive, Susan Lapworth, and Director of Regulation, Philippa Pickford, are considered in Wonkhe’s article looking at the warnings against ‘optimism bias’ in submitting annual financial returns. Debbie McVitty thinks that the regulator anticipating, rather than commenting retrospectively, on the ‘possibility of poor risk management for some institutions, albeit in a light touch way, signals a meaningful concern’. She concludes that ‘whatever politicians might say or whatever policies might get announced, the country can’t afford for its higher education sector to either indulge in false hopes or give in to despair. Satisfying the regulator on the financial sustainability conditions in the current economic climate might feel like an almost impossible task for some institutions – but the much bigger job of tackling the country’s problems even though there’s not much money to do it is only just beginning.’

Wonkhe also has a brief article regarding the drop in value of OfS direct funding, and wondering whether it is worth asking for this to be increased (as ‘part of the Plan 5 treasury windfall’ from changes to graduate repayments of student loans).


Two PHES SIOs have issued reports this month which both focus on the cooperation and collaboration required both across departments within institutions and across the entire HE sector in order to address the issues of achieving carbon net zero.

Earlier this month, HESPA released a report in partnership with SUMS Consulting, on Integrating climate strategy into university planning. The report states that ‘Strategy and planning professionals have a unique skillset and the potential to make a substantial contribution to the sustainability agenda, both at their own institutions and collectively at sector level’ and that many ‘are keen to engage in this, leveraging their strong relationships with sustainability teams, finance, estates and academic colleagues towards shared goals’. According to the report, around half of institutions (47.9%) agree or strongly agree that their practice around integrating climate as a strategic driver is effective, around one third (32.9%) disagree or strongly disagree, with the rest (19.2%) expressing no strong view. Building on this report, HESPA and SUMS have established a Community of Practice for Sustainability in Strategy and Planning. The group is aimed at strategic planners and colleagues, and membership is open to institutions who are members of HESPA or SUMS Consulting. If you’d like to know more, get in touch at

AUDE’s H E Estates Management Report (EMR) covering 2021-22, has just been issued, with a focus on the huge energy price increases during the year when the sector’s energy bill rose by 43%. Looking at the sustainability challenges in the sector, the report comments that the ‘scale of the challenge requires a "whole university" as well as a "whole sector" approach’.



Bookings are now open for the December round of HEPA’s Head of Procurement turnover group meetings.

The Cabinet Office has released a package of communications materials covering the Transforming Public Procurement Programme, available on the Transforming Public Procurement webpages which have been updated following Royal Assent.

The very well attended and very useful Time to Talk Imports for Procurement session recording and slides are now available to view.

LUPC is holding a launch webinar for the new Debt Recovery Services Framework on 12 December, which may be of interest to procurement staff, but also credit control teams and debt managers. Dell and LUPC are hosting a webinar on 4 December showcasing Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) goals and identifying where they are relevant in H E, with an open Q&A session to address any current issues. The session will cover off subjects such as climate action, the circular economy, cultivating inclusion, and the impact of current and future legislation.


If you have been lucky enough to get a place at one of our extremely popular Global Mobility, Employment Status or Employment Tax surgeries taking place over the next week but find you are unable to attend, please contact Gill to cancel your place as we have waiting lists for all these events and could give your place to someone else.

Given the recent discussions at some of our regional tax group meetings about VAT on fuel and power, you may want to book onto our roundtable discussion meeting about VAT on fuel and power on 7 December.


Whilst it doesn’t help in any way with how to fund the huge TPS contribution increases required from employers from April, this Wonkhe article looks back over the history of how ‘post-92’ universities ended up being compelled to offer TPS, when perhaps simply enabling them to offer TPS was the aim. UCEA expresses concern at the ‘eye-watering increases’, and the issue also make it into the FT(£).


Any staff new to the H E sector would benefit from attending the free Introduction to H E for Professional Services Staff on 6 December. This one-day development event is free to attend and takes place online. It is aimed at all professional services staff within their first year of working in higher education and is a joint event with AUDE, HESPA and UHR.

Our Deputy FD meetings continue in December with places still available, so have a look at the dates and locations and book your place. The Midlands meeting on 1 December, the Northern meeting on 7 December, and the London/South East meeting on 14 December will all be held in-person so they’re a great opportunity to make new H E contacts, catch up with old ones, and improve your network, and the Welsh meeting on 11 December and South West meeting on 13 December will take place online this time.

If you need to influence stakeholders to achieve goals but don’t have formal ‘power’ or authority over those stakeholders, then have a look at our two-part Influencing your Organisation online workshop on 6 and 7 December. With a limited number of participants, this facilitated workshop will give you insights into your own, and others’, communications preferences; show you how and when to adjust your influencing style; and enable you to present compelling cases to non-finance audiences to develop your credibility and impact. The workshop costs £395 + VAT, and is limited to just 8 places, so have a look a the workshop details and book now!


With members discussing the recent Unit 4 announcement about their move to the cloud/SaaS solution for all clients by 31 December 2024 and the end of on-premises support after that date, it looks like this will result in another major ‘change project’ for many universities to manage. We know that many of our member universities are managing several large and complex change projects concurrently at the moment, and this can be very difficult to do. HEPI has issued a report, Change by Design: How universities should design change initiatives for success, showing how university leaders must rethink the design of institutional change initiatives to improve impact and success. The report might provide some pointers on how to make this massive multiple change process a bit easier, and/or a bit more successful. The report argues that before embarking on any change projects, universities should answer five questions:

  1. Why is the change necessary?
  2. What will replace the status quo?
  3. How will the move from the status quo to the future state be achieved?
  4. What change delivery model will be employed?
  5. What would success look like?

If one of the change programmes you are embarking on is a new finance system, or an enforced move to the cloud if you are a Unit 4 client, we would also recommend the BUFDG report, Ahead in the Cloud: A BUFDG Guide to Finance System Implementation in H E, as a companion publication, looking at lessons learned by other HEPs who have recently trodden this path.


Several Jobs of the Fortnight this time. Starting with two in research finance: The University of Sussex is looking for a Senior Research Finance Officer to be responsible for all aspects of post award financial management of a portfolio of research projects and provide post award financial advice and guidance to academics and other stakeholders in the University. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is looking for an Assistant Research Finance Manager to provide leadership to a team of Research Finance Officers in delivering an efficient, customer-focused service covering all aspects of post-award financial management across a complex portfolio of projects and act as an escalation point for issues arising on projects as well as being accountable for quality assurance, oversight, and compliance across their team’s portfolio.

The University of Surrey is looking for Chief Financial Officer to play a key role in shaping and overseeing the institution’s financial health, strategic direction, and commercial endeavours. They will report directly to the VC and act as a member of the Executive Board, and be responsible for the leadership of the finance function, overseeing the financial strategy and accompanying operating arrangements, to support and facilitate the University’s Strategic Plan. And Somerville College, University of Oxford, is looking for a ‘financial leader with gravitas and cultural sensitivity’ to be their new Treasurer and Domestic Bursar who will be responsible for the management and administration of all financial, estates, human resource, and operational issues affecting the College, with oversight of the inner-most workings of the College.

Read more

This site uses cookies and other tracking technologies to assist with navigation and your ability to provide feedback, analyse your use of the site and services and assist with our member communication efforts. Privacy Policy. Accept cookies Cookie Settings