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A review of HEFCE has concluded that it is a high-performing organisation that has the confidence of the higher education sector and the Government.
The review, carried out by an independent review group chaired by Dame Sandra Burslem, was informed by research carried out by Oakleigh Consulting Limited ('Review of the effectiveness and efficiency of HEFCE', HEFCE 2010/07). This involved consultation with over 200 representatives from 47 higher education providers and 30 other organisations, resulting in the publication today of the Oakleigh report and the review group's commentary.
The review group has endorsed the findings of the Oakleigh report which concluded that HEFCE provides good value for money to the taxpayer. HEFCE was found to be efficient both in the use of its own resources and in the processes it administers for funding universities and colleges. HEFCE was also found to be effective in delivering its core functions.
The report concluded that the sector and Government 'can be confident that the Council is both alive and responding to the many different challenges it must face', whilst emphasising the importance of maintaining the integrity of the 'successful model of sector relationship management that the Council has developed over the period of its existence'.
Dame Sandra Burslem said:
'Oakleigh's report makes it clear that HEFCE is a well established agency that in several respects could be judged to exemplify the best of what can be achieved in the public sector. It highlights that the Council’s role as a broker is important to both the sector and Government and warns that this depends critically on buy-in from institutional leaders which may come under pressure as public sector funding tightens. The Council clearly faces many demanding and complex challenges in the coming period. Our commentary and Oakleigh’s report examine these and the various steps HEFCE will need to take to manage them.'
Lord Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills, said:
'Over the years HEFCE has built up an enviable reputation for effectiveness and efficiency in distributing large sums of public money. All of this stands HEFCE in a strong position to handle those difficult decisions as we ask the sector for some modest belt tightening. I am sure that HEFCE will respond positively to those issues that the Review Group has identified to further strengthen the organisation.'
Sir Alan Langlands, HEFCE Chief Executive, said:
'This is a very positive and thorough report on HEFCE's performance, but there is no room for complacency. The review has helpfully identified challenges that we, and universities and colleges, face in the future and we shall be considering carefully the recommendations both in the review group's commentary and the report itself.'
The report found that the Council was for the most part reflective and self-critical in character with a good grasp of where it needs to improve its performance or adjust to external circumstances. The need for such change in the past five years has been in relation to its assurance and regulatory activities and its interactions with universities and colleges through its institutional teams.
The review group's commentary argues that HEFCE has responded successfully to changes in the past and understands the challenges it will face in the future. These include: challenges to HEFCE’s culture, style and ways of working caused by greater pressure on public funding; challenges to the stability of the sector and its financial sustainability; and greater pressures on HEFCE’s relationships with the sector and other external bodies.
Oakleigh's report warns that 'one possible consequence of these challenges is that the model of consensual and consultative policy development that has characterised much of HEFCE's work may be undermined' and recommends that how HEFCE actively manages this issue be 'formally incorporated within the Board's register of strategic risks'.
The model of flexible resourcing it has adopted based on a more strategic management approach should be built on, supported by a light-touch, focused application of best practice project and programme management.