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Policy Guide
Efficiency in higher education

Case study

See how the University of Lincoln library has used the LEAN methodology to make more efficient use of shelving.

In brief

England has a world-class reputation for higher education, and is a sought-after place to study among international students. At the same time, universities and colleges deliver teaching and research with significantly less of the country’s gross domestic product than other leading higher education systems.  

But the higher education sector is always looking for ways to become more efficient. This helps to secure the long-term future of institutions. It also helps ensure that the public investment in higher education provides value for money.   

We work with universities and colleges to help them find ways to make their operations more efficient and so improve the experience for students. Our work includes sharing good practice and collaborative services, and helping institutions to publicise this activity to students, Government and the wider public. 

The Diamond Review

Universities UK set up an Efficiency and Modernisation Task Group, chaired by Professor Sir Ian Diamond, to lead universities in their work on efficiency.  The group now provides an annual report to Government. 

The group published its first set of findings in a report now known as the Diamond Review. This made a number of recommendations, which has led to the areas of activities summarised on these pages.

How can institutions be more efficient? 

Students are paying higher fees. This means they want to know what their money is buying. Universities have always looked to operate efficiently, but this change means they need to show clearly how they offer value for money to students and the wider public.   

1. The Efficiency Exchange 

The Efficiency Exchange is an online ‘one-stop shop’ for anyone interested in learning more about efficiency and innovation in higher education. 

It helps universities and colleges to discover and share ideas, good practice and resources.

It also engages with professional groups, such as librarians and finance staff, to understand their needs for information, and support the creation and sharing of resources. 

2. The Innovation and Transformation Fund

This fund supports projects with a focus on areas that are strategically important and is targeted at senior leaders in the higher education sector.

The funded projects focus on areas that are strategically important for improving efficiency and are designed to provide examples of good practice for the benefit of the sector as a whole. 

 Areas of focus include: costing activities, a strategic approach to benchmarking costs, simplifying and improving internal processes, working with the private sector, the national co-ordination of procurement in higher education. 

3. Shared services

Shared services help universities to operate in a more efficient and effective way, which in turn benefits their students. 

Among the best-known examples is UCAS, which runs the process of applying to universities. 

Another high-profile example is Janet, which maintains the technology network for the research and education communities. 

How does HEFCE help? 

We provide guidance and fund the development of good practice, tools and techniques to help universities and colleges operate more efficiently.

We are monitoring carefully the implementation of the cost sharing exemption to Value Added Tax legislation. This aims to make it easier for universities and colleges to share services.

We gather information about the sector in areas, such as procurement, to support Universities UK with its annual report to government. 


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