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28th October 2020

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BUFDG Digest - Wednesday 28 October 2020 Amanda Darley


With Halloween around the corner, many schools on half-term, and universities in, or approaching, a reading week, we’re definitely well into autumn, and ‘winter is coming’. But what kind of winter will it be for universities? With coronavirus numbers on the rise again, and some universities hard hit by this, as well as many areas of the country effectively almost back in lockdown, many are concerned about what their drop-out rates will be and the accompanying impact on their finances. WonkHE is hosting a three hour online session, Don’t Drop Out: Averting a Covid retention crisis, on 4 November, which might help you avoid, or at least be better prepared for, a post-Halloween scare in your student numbers.


Having introduced a number of new e-learning modules over the summer, we’re going to focus on a few of these over the coming weeks, to give you more insight into what they’re about and who they might be suitable for. And don’t just think about your own development requirements – if you think any of our e-learning modules would help anyone else in your HEI, please recommend the module to them – remember, EVERYONE at your HEI can access BUFDG e-learning modules, not just Finance staff.

This week we’re putting the spotlight on our new module, ‘Introduction to TRAC’. It’s aimed at staff involved in the preparation, compilation, validation, and approval of the Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC) data. But it also provides a good overview for senior staff new to TRAC and those in TRAC oversight groups or institutional committees with oversight of TRAC. Find out more here.


How well will your international fee income recover next year? A THE survey has discovered that potential international students would prefer to study at home in person, rather than studying overseas remotely. In the survey of 659 potential students, less than a third believed that online learning at an overseas university would be better than studying face-to-face in their home country. However, the US comes off significantly worse than other countries in the study, with only 25% agreeing that studying online in the US would be better and 57% disagreeing, so the figures for the UK are in fact 38% agreeing that studying online in the UK would be better and an almost equivalent 40% disagreeing. The study also looked at what those who had cancelled their overseas study for this year are planning to do, and this article looks at more of the figures.

HEFCW announced last week that Welsh universities will receive an extra £10 million to support students and staff during the 2020/21 academic year to help ‘bolster mental health services and student financial hardship funds during the coronavirus pandemic’. According to WonkHE, that would equate to £150m extra funding for English HEIs (of which, so far, nothing has been offered), and suggests this is another reason why the issue of students and Covid needs a UK-wide solution.

However, OfS has asked for views on its approach to allocating up to £10 million in additional recurrent teaching grant, and up to £10 million in additional capital funding, to support increased student numbers in 2020-21. the additional grant funding from DfE will be made available to support universities, colleges and other higher education providers who have since taken on more students studying high-cost subjects – for example, medicine, dentistry, healthcare courses and other laboratory-based subjects. The consultation closes on 9 November and the deadline to bid is 30 November.

Research England has announced a new fund to improve postgraduate research participation and access, as only 17.1% of postgraduate students in 2017/18 were from BAME backgrounds. Research England and the OfS are investing £6 million and £2 million respectively in projects to improve access and participation for these groups at all stages of the postgraduate student lifecycle. The announcement includes some information on what bids must include, and UKRI also has a short article about it.

And also on the research front, during her recent speech to HEPI, the Science Minister, Amanda Solloway, announced that the UK's research funding bodies will be working together to create a plan to reform the REF. She noted that ‘over 97% of outputs submitted to REF 2014 were text-based’ and that it is commonplace ‘to talk about the UK’s leading position in “citation impact”’, so that ‘publication and citation seem to have become ends in themselves’ and research is too much driven by the results and publications process calling into question the ‘integrity of science itself’. She stated that, while there is ‘absolutely no intention of disrupting the important work of the current REF’ and that ‘we must protect our dual support system’, we should ‘ask ourselves how the REF can be evolved for the better’. This WonkHE article provided some further thoughts after the speech.


Is this what HE will look like after COVID? Nick Hillman has written an interesting blog on the HEPI website, outlining his thoughts about what the future of HE might look like after COVID. After stating a few caveats, he outlines six areas for change, including weaker institutions getting weaker, less money for each student, more demanding students, and the continuation of the residential model. If you have a few minutes spare, and your job could benefit from thinking beyond the next couple of years, then this is for you.  

Looking even further ahead, HEPI has also issued this report about the demand for higher education up until 2035. Their accompanying article describes the combination of demographic changes (a reduction in the number of 18 year olds in Scotland but an increase in England after this year) coupled with expansion in demand, will likely result in very little change in the requirement for university places in Scotland, but an additional 358,000 places in England, with the biggest growth in London and the South East. (Wales and Northern Ireland are not covered in detail due to methodological and data differences, though Northern Ireland is expected to have a similar pattern to Scotland.)

Also looking to the future, the Scottish Funding Council published the findings of phase 1 of its review of colleges and universities last week. This SFC article covers the key findings, and comments from the SFC’s Chief Executive, Karen Watt. WonkHE describes the SFC report as demonstrating ‘real ambition for the future’ and considers that ‘the review will build into a meaningful vision for the future of tertiary education in Scotland’. While the report of course only relates to Scotland, does it signpost where HE (and FE) is heading across the whole UK? The WonkHE article tends to compare the review to the approach taken in England – and England doesn’t come off well. The SFC’s approach in the report is described by WonkHE as ‘coming from a place of knowledge and understanding, of practicality and – yes – pride. And the recommendations flow out from that’. Tantalising stuff. So if you want to dive deeper into this, HESPA provided a virtual panel session involving the SFC and some university planners yesterday, discussing some of the findings and how some of the key themes might be developed and taken forward, and it all sounded pretty utopian to an English ear. A recording will be available shortly so keep your eye on HESPA’s Debate Panel recordings page. Definitely an issue to keep abreast of – as WonkHE concludes, ‘What follows will likely set the pace (and the standard, frankly) for the rest of the UK’….


In our latest blog post this week, David Spreckley from Isio’s Public Service pension team shares his thoughts on the USS consultation. Isio is the former pension function of KPMG and advises widely in the HE sector. David writes: ‘Even the lowest contribution rate in the USS consultation is likely to be unacceptable. So how can an agreement be reached and what could this look like? We pose several questions to home in on a possible outcome.’ Read the full blog post here.


For attendees of the tax conference, recordings and slides for all sessions are now available – you should have been sent a link to access these, but if you can’t find it please contact Gill.

Last week’s TaxHE was a bumper edition as usual, covering all sorts, including the many acronymised* job schemes (JRS, JRB, JSS), numerous updates and details on customs and imports, minutes from the recent national tax group and HMRC liaison meetings, an much more. You can read the whole thing here and if you’d like to receive a copy in your inbox once a fortnight you can amend your preferences on the MyBUFDG page. *(I wasn't sure if this was actually a word, but my Word spellcheck didn't complain!).

In case you missed it, HM Treasury issued a Winter Economy Plan last month, showing how the Government aims to protect jobs and support the economy as COVID-19 restrictions continue and the Job Retention Scheme ends. And although the Budget, scheduled to have taken place in the Autumn, has been cancelled (to focus on measures to support economy and workforce this winter) the planned Spending Review is proceeding and will conclude in late November.


UK Universities Purchasing Consortia: UKUPC has released a new website with information on each of the member consortia, newsletters, and the newly published UKUPC Strategy, which includes details of UKUPC’s nine strategic aims as well as the Joint Contracting Group, Information Systems Group, and the Communications Group.

Social Enterprises – what are you doing in your institution? King’s College London is working with several Social Enterprises on projects ranging from face coverings to stationery to promotional materials. This article contains some inspiring quotes from the Social Enterprises that King’s is working with, as well as a link to King’s Socially Responsible Procurement Policy. If you are working with Social Enterprises then the Social Value & Community Benefits Responsible Procurement Sub-Group would love to hear from you – please do get in touch to let us know what you are doing!

And don’t forget you can register here for our time to talk with Social Enterprise UK where you can hear from Peter Holbrook, Nicola McAvoy and HEPA Deputy Chair, Veronica Daly.

The recording of the ‘Brexit and Procurement’ Time to Talk session recently provided by Clyde & Co is now available, along with the slides from the session.


For procurement and tax staff (and anyone else involved in importing), BUFDG is running three more Customs training days to prepare you for purchasing items from overseas in the post-Brexit environment - just 65 working days from today! The training sessions are provided by customs experts from The Customs People.

The courses run on 10 November, 11 November and 12 November. Feedback from the first course has been great with participants describing it as an ‘Excellent well presented course’ and saying it has ‘helped me gain a better understanding of what we need to plan for after the UK leaves the EU’ and ‘knowledge gained from the course will enable me to make decisions about Customs processes’. Use the booking links above to find out more.

On 18 November BUFDG and our PHES colleagues are hosting another Intro to HE day for professional services staff. These are fantastic events for those working within their first year in HE, and want to understand more about the complexities and political environment of HE. 

HESPA has a number of interesting events coming up, which are open to most BUFDG members (whose institutions are also members of HESPA). Firstly, there are two instances of the ‘Strategy in a changing environment’ course, on the 12/13 and 24/25 November:

Typical approaches to strategic management often assume relatively stable environments where strategy is formulated, implemented and then reviewed within a predefined period. However, what happens when environments become more dynamic, or when they are entirely disrupted by external factors (e.g., COVID pandemic, financial crises), and it is not easy to identify priorities at the beginning of a business cycle? These two half-day workshops will discuss the assumptions that underpin traditional approaches to strategy and how these may have to change when adaptation, agility and responsiveness are required.’ There’s more information on the workshop pages.

Secondly, there’s another edition of the popular Telling Stories with Data course on 8/9 December. Each session will be a mix of tuition using slides, discussion, and hands-on exercises.


We’ve got two jobs of the fortnight in this issue:

First is Director of Finance and Estates at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Leading a team of ten Finance staff and 20 Estates and Facilities staff, the post holder will also play a wider role in the strategic management of the Conservatoire, helping achieve the vision of ‘redefining and reclaiming the conservatoire for the twenty first century’ at this leading edge music and dance training institution. Apply by 27 November.

And there’s also the Group Tax Manager at Jisc. The successful candidate ‘will be responsible for developing the tax strategy for Jisc…’ and ‘provide leadership within the specialist area of tax; developing and implementing a strategy and operational plan to improve Jisc’s tax efficiency whilst working…’ in ‘the UKs largest VAT tax exemption group’. The advert is also keen to stress that ‘we realise the “perfect candidate” doesn’t exist. If you're excited about working for us and can do most of what we are looking for, go ahead and apply. You could be exactly what we need!’. Applications close on 1 November. 

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