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  • Forewords
  • Key points
  • Introduction
  • New strategic models: implications for HE workforce planning
  • Higher education pay
  • HE pensions
  • Supporting a sustainable HE workforce for the future
  • Maintaining a high-quality workforce
  • Meeting the challenges with effective human resource management
  • Conclusion
  • List of abbreviations



The ability, skills and dedication of its staff are often the most important determinants of the success of a higher education institution. Outstanding staff in adequate surroundings will simply outperform adequate staff in outstanding surroundings. Individual higher education institutions know this well and work hard to recruit and develop talent. However, at the level of the higher education sector, do we know the characteristics of our workforce and how they vary between institutions and over time by such factors as age, qualifications, discipline and nationality? Are we certain that, following recent investment, our human resource policies, procedures and practices, and also our leadership, are comparable with the very best? Is our workforce well prepared for life in a much more competitive and challenging economic environment?

The Higher Education Workforce Steering Group was established to address such questions. Over the past two years we have analysed data, consulted widely, commissioned and published five consultants' reports – and now publish this outline report, giving an overview of the wealth of information contained in our main report, 'The higher education workforce framework 2010: main report' (HEFCE 2010/05a). I trust that whatever your involvement with the higher education sector you will find this report of interest.

Professor Paul Curran
Chair, Higher Education Workforce Steering Group


Higher education in England delivers outstanding results at national and international levels; at its heart is a high-quality workforce characterised by excellence, creativity and innovation.

This report has been produced in testing economic times. The challenge for higher education will be to maintain the momentum achieved in recent years in a more constrained spending environment. Universities and colleges face tough financial conditions and yet they are crucial to delivering the country's twin aims of a vibrant economy and a just society.

It is essential that universities and colleges are able to attract, retain and motivate talented staff if they are to remain successful within a changing national and global higher education environment. Staff in higher education must continue to adapt and change in response to the new expectations placed on them if we are to maintain the highest quality of higher education and research.

This report highlights the key achievements of higher education, the most pressing challenges for people working in our universities and colleges and the conditions required for a healthy and sustainable workforce; it also raises a number of key questions that we would like to see discussed in more detail.

Sir Alan Langlands
Chief Executive, HEFCE

Key points

  • There is a clear public interest in supporting a sustainable, high-quality higher education (HE) workforce that has the capacity and capability to maintain the English HE sector’s world-class performance.
  • Higher education relies on its ability to attract, retain and motivate talented staff. It is important that each higher education institution (HEI) can position itself as an 'employer of choice' for the most able staff and is able to engage, develop, motivate and reward its staff competitively.
  • The future workforce requirements for the HE sector will be largely influenced by the factors driving change for the English HE sector nationally and globally. Staff in HE must continue to adapt and change in response to these factors and the new expectations on staff, in order to maintain a high-quality higher education sector.
  • Strategic human resource managementSee note 1 has a key role to play in supporting HEIs to develop a sustainable, fit for purpose and high-quality workforce for the future, thus contributing importantly to institutional success.
  • Anticipated reductions in public and private funding will affect HE in a number of ways including: affordability of future pay rises; affordability of employers' pensions contributions; uncertainty over funded student growth; and increased volatility of international student fee income. Staffing structures and costs will need to be examined in order to respond to these pressures and to meet changing demands from students, employers and other stakeholders.
  • In the drive to seek efficiencies and in a context of increasing demand (both of research, enterprise and teaching), HEIs face the challenge of maintaining standards and their international reputation for excellence in learning, teaching, research and enterprise as well as positioning themselves to play an important role in the UK's economic recovery.
  • The changing nature of the HE marketplace, and the consequent increase in institutional strategic diversity in an increasingly international context, will require greater diversity in organisational capabilities and workforce requirements, placing a renewed emphasis on workforce planning.
  • Views are divided among our consultees about whether sector-wide or other common frameworks (such as national pay bargaining, the single pay spine, the 'post-1992' academic contract and Model Statutes in the 'pre-1992' sector) act as enablers or barriers to HEIs/workforces becoming more flexible and agile.
  • There is a greater willingness for HEIs to embrace cultural and behavioural change in equality and diversity, in line with the stronger legal framework in this area. Many HEIs are undertaking excellent work to address equality issues, but persistent patterns of under-representation and disadvantage, such as the gender pay gap, remain. Some of the areas covered most recently by legislation – such as sexual orientation, religion and age – also require more attention as we move the equality agenda forward.
  • Effective performance management and high-quality leadership, governance and management are essential in forming the foundation of a successful, high-quality HE workforce.

The report concludes with five questions for debate by the sector, in response to the issues and trends identified in the report:

  1. How can the sector become more flexible at a time of change while maximising the talent and commitment of its people?
  2. How can HE pay and reward remain competitive, adequately rewarding people for their contribution, and equitable while also being affordable and not threatening the sector's future financial sustainability?
  3. National pay bargaining has continued to receive broad support across the sector's employers and trade unions. What is the optimum industrial relations model for the sector to create an environment where the sector's sustainability and success is driven by a motivated, well rewarded and engaged workforce?
  4. How can the sector best support (and subsequently implement) the aims of the Employers' Pensions Forum to achieve sustainable pensions for the HE workforce in future?
  5. To what extent do the existing contracts and university statutes require change to optimise performance management, workforce flexibility and to enable institutions to meet the diverse expectations of staff, students and employers?

This report highlights a number of key issues and HE workforce challenges which are jointly owned by a broad range of stakeholders within an autonomous HE sector. We invite the sector to decide how it would like to take these issues forward.


  1. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development defines 'strategic human resource management' as: 'A general approach to the strategic management of human resources in accordance with the intentions of the organisation on the future direction it wants to take. It is concerned with longer-term people issues and macro-concerns about structure, quality, culture, values, commitment and matching resources to future need.' Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 'Strategic Human Resource Management' (June 2009).

Date: 1 February 2010

Ref: 2010/05

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Human resources, Institutional planning and finance

Enquiries should be directed to:

Amy Norton, tel 0117 931 7025, e-mail

Rachel Pennington, tel 0117 931 7394, e-mail

Alison Johns, tel 0117 931 7069, e-mail