The FSSG has undertaken a study into the sustainability of learning and teaching in the higher education (HE) sector in England. This study updates its 2008 assessment of ‘The sustainability of learning and teaching in English higher education institutions’
The study was overseen by a working group co-chaired by Professor Dame Julia Goodfellow (FSSG Chair) and Professor Julian Crampton (FSSG member) which provided case studies and evidence to inform the study and provided a forum for discussion of the issues emerging from the study.
The study considered three main questions:
- How healthy is teaching and learning in English universities today, compared with 2008, and with what we would wish to see?
- How have universities responded to the new environment, and how able are they to continue to deliver world-class higher education to their students and to serve the other purposes we expect of them?
- What are the major risks and challenges in the new environment that universities will face in the future?
The report draws conclusions on its assessment of the sustainability of learning and teaching. The report is primarily about providing evidence to inform policy, but we make a number of recommendations where universities may need to take action, whether individually or working in collaboration with other sector groups to assure the academic and financial sustainability of teaching and learning. We also make some recommendations to Government, funders and regulators on how they could help universities in addressing the challenges and risks over the medium term.
ASSUR template 2016
Institutions can use this form for the annual sustainability assurance report (ASSUR) to the relevant Funding Council in December 2016.
This project has investigated how institutions monitor how far institutional plans are sustainable.
The project had four areas of focus and a small group of institutions have participated in each area:
- non-financial KPIs and assessments of sustainability
- financial KPIs - Considering the earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) measure and other developments regarding going concern assessments
- required surplus and replacement of TRAC Return for Finance and Investment
- interaction with institutional boards of governors on matters regarding sustainability.
With a small number of institutions the project has also investigated and developed an alternative basis for the economic adjustments that are used in the Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC) methodology.
These adjustments seek to represent the full economic cost of undertaking an activity at current-day costs. They adjust the expenditure levels for the cost of financing that is not represented in the financial statements. They also adjust the depreciation charge to represent the full current costs, rather than the on depreciated replacement cost of the building infrastructure.
The new method is called the Margin for Sustainability and Investment and is being piloted at present.
The results of this work led to the development of an assurance report, called the Annual Sustainability Assurance report (ASSUR) and the Margin for Sustainability (MSI) and Investment. The ASSUR report provides institutions with a basis for engaging with its governing body on matters concerning sustainability. It also provides assurance to funders. There was a voluntary pilot of the ASSUR report and MSI in the sector in December 2013.
Following the publication of the Committee of University Chairs’ Higher Education Code of Governance, HEFCE and other funders have recognised the ASSUR as a process that can satisfy these new requirements.
The project is currently nearing its conclusion. The key outputs from the project, including a recent report on the evaluation of the pilot of the ASSUR and MSI, are provided below:
The annual sustainability assurance report (ASSUR)
Annual sustainability assessment by institutional governing bodies (6 August 2014)
Letter on assessing institutional sustainability: implementation notes (17 May 2013)
The FSSG annual sustainability assurance report (ASSUR) Implementation notes (May 2013)
Annual sustainability assessment by institutional governing bodies (23 January 2013)
Annual assessment of institutional sustainability
Annual assessment of institutional sustainability - Report on the pilot project (January 2013)
Assessing the sustainability of higher education institutions (June 2011)
The FSSG published a report in June 2011 describing the findings of a UK-wide study to develop indicators of institutional sustainability. UK institutions can use these indicators to manage their futures, and to provide assurance to their funding and regulatory bodies.
We are reviewing the way universities and colleges report the costs of their activities or the ‘Transparent Approach to Costing’ (TRAC).
We consulted on proposals to streamline the requirements between October 2012 and January 2013. The outcomes were published in April 2013.
Responses to the consultation overwhelmingly supported its proposals. These included the proposal to retain TRAC.
The priorities that came out of the consultation were:
- streamlining the TRAC requirements
- improving the TRAC guidance
- reducing the level of compliance for universities and colleges with lower levels of publicly funded research activity
- streamlining the reporting requirements.
Based on responses to the consultation, we will not publish Annual TRAC data or TRAC for teaching (TRAC(T)) data showing the names of institutions.
We will also continue to work on a modified version of TRAC(T) reporting to provide data that informs our teaching funding method for high-cost subjects.
The outcomes report includes an action plan setting out HEFCE’s response to the TRAC Review Group recommendations.
We will also help the sector to provide accessible and meaningful information for students and taxpayers about how universities and colleges invest public funds and student fees.
The plans to streamline requirements and improve the TRAC guidance will deliver benefits and cut the administrative burden for universities and colleges by 5 and 25 per cent.
Streamlining and improvement of TRAC - future plans for the TRAC Development Group
Professor Stuart Palmer, the Chair of the TRAC Development Group, has set out in a letter to the sector the group’s programme of work on streamlining and improving TRAC in response to the review.
TRAC Review Group
The TRAC Review Group has advised us in the course of this review. The group is chaired by an independent HEFCE Board Member.
Other members are drawn from across key stakeholder groups.
HEFCE review of TRAC
The 2011 higher education White Paper asked HEFCE to consult with the sector on a proposed streamlining of the Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC). The TRAC Review Group was established to define the scope and content of the consultation and to make recommendations to the HEFCE Board.
HEFCE Review of TRAC: terms of reference and scope
Evidence from across the range of groups and individuals with an interest in TRAC informed the analysis of the current TRAC arrangements and helped to identify opportunities for improvements.
The report ‘Review of the Transparent Approach to Costing: A report by KPMG for HEFCE’ (October 2012) was published alongside the consultation.
The review also drew heavily on the evidence in ‘Review of time allocation methods: A study for the TRAC Development Group’ (July 2012).
Review of time allocation methods
The TRAC Development Group led a review into time-allocation methods across the sector. The report provides further insights and practical suggestions to assist institutions in enhancing their management information in this area in addition to improving the data that informs the TRAC process.