‘The agile will survive and prosper in troubled times for HE sector’

Provost Tim Dunne reflects on PwC’s report on Financial Sustainability in the Higher Education sector.

“Last week, the professional services firm PwC published a report on Financial Sustainability in the Higher Education sector. The report was commissioned by Universities UK, and its analysis was drawn from data shared by 84 universities. To say the report is timely is an understatement. University boardrooms up and down the country are grappling with a business model that is in crisis. Why? Domestic student fees are now worth around £6,000 in 2012 prices (when £9,000 fees were introduced); operating costs have been rising rapidly, particularly in relation to estates and staff; research continues to be funded at below cost. The only buoyant part of the HE sector is the revenue generated by international students – but that is vulnerable to changes in UK visa policy while being exposed to unpredictable international factors to do with war, financial instability, political decision-making on the basis of a foreign government’s calibration of the national interest and global competition.

“The PwC paper contains within it resources of hope. There are HE providers out there who are achieving resilience by driving the ‘top line’ in terms of fee income, reducing operating costs through digital solutions, rationalising estates, and leveraging key partnerships domestically and internationally. It will be the agile who survive and prosper in these troubled times for the sector.”