Management of individual institutions
5.16 This section considers those aspects of institutional management which are properly the responsibility of the executive management team. Higher education institutions, and to a lesser extent further education colleges, are complex operations with multi-million pound turnovers. They are in receipt of large sums from the public purse but many also generate significant funds from other sources. Institutions are legally autonomous and we are, therefore, conscious of the need to ensure that a proper balance is struck between accountability for public funds and this autonomy.
5.18 Institutions employ a range of management structures and the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) states in its written evidence to the Inquiry that the recommendations of the Jarratt Report, in relation to embedding proper management structures at all levels, have not been addressed fully in all institutions'.93 We commend Jarratt's recommendations with respect to this issue and note with disappointment that, ten years on, 'awareness of costs and full cost charging', appears to have progressed slowly in institutions.94 We deal with this latter issue in more detail below.
5.19 The challenge to managers of institutions will be to create institution-wide strategies and business plans for both sustainability and development. Each institution, through its principal and management team, will wish to develop a structure and methodology that best suits this purpose. Just as institutions have diverse missions so institutions will develop diverse management strategies.
5.23 There is an urgent need within every institution to determine the total cost of teaching and research. This should include both direct costs and a full allocation of the institution's overheads. A fully-costed system for teaching and research would provide a solid foundation for the benchmarking process and thereby provide meaningful management information for all higher education institutions. Benchmarking should provide useful information both of a financial and non-financial nature. We are aware that the UK Funding Bodies plan imminently to publish a study of costings in institutions. We expect that this information will provide a firm foundation to departments and faculties for costing teaching and research and for the allocation of overheads.96
5.24 Non-financial benchmarking information could include a variety of statistics which could be used to improve efficiency and to provide a better service to students. Information could be included on, for example: provision of computer terminals for students, library services, human resources policies, working practices, numbers employed in various services and so on. The possibilities are clearly extensive and there is a need to focus on the information which could be most useful to governing bodies and executive management. This type of information is readily available and implementation of a benchmarking service could be rapid.
5.25 If benchmarking is to be effective, the exercise has to be undertaken in a professional manner. Information collected must be valid and reliable but has also to be used in a meaningful way whereby comparisons are made between institutions with clearly comparable missions. We believe the most appropriate body to provide such a service in Scotland is the new higher education funding council.
5.26 The higher education funding council and institutions should, therefore, identify groups of institutions with similar missions for comparative purposes. As well as comparing similar institutions in Scotland, it would be desirable to compare Scottish institutions with others in the UK and also internationally. Given, as we discuss later, that the cost per head in Scotland of providing higher education is higher than in the rest of the UK, it is important to find out if this is due to institutional performance or other national cost factors.
5.27 We have noted that the Scottish higher education sector is a good size for sharing staff, facilities and equipment on a regional or national basis and that there is already a great deal of collaboration either at the institutions' own behest or through Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) initiatives such as the Support for Students with Disabilities Equipment Initiative, the Regional Strategic Initiatives Fund and the Strategic Change Grant initiative. Throughout its report, the National Committee has identified a number of areas where further collaboration might take place, ranging from administrative services to research facilities and teaching and learning materials and programmes.
5.28 We note that the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals (COSHEP) favours a situation where 'collaboration, co-operation and above all, rationalisation, are best left to the strategic management of institutions themselves with encouragement - and perhaps incentives - from SHEFC'.97 We believe that the 'bottom-up' approach to collaborative activities is highly productive and could be further encouraged. Our review, however, reveals that there are not enough initiatives of this nature which are explicitly concerned with cost-effectiveness in the teaching of programmes and, possibly more easily and readily, in support services. There are also occasions when a stronger central strategic steer could be given in the interests of Scottish higher education as a whole.
5.29 Many commentators have suggested that the current competitive funding system militates against further collaboration and, therefore, reduces potential benefits to the system as a whole. However, we find it difficult to accept that a less competitive funding environment would yield savings through greater collaboration.
5.30 We agree with the National Committee that communications and information technology (C&IT) offers scope for securing greater efficiencies through the computerisation and digitisation of managerial and administrative services. We are convinced of the value of Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs), which make it possible to share electronic libraries, course materials, and, particularly in research, applications, and which enable regional collaboration between academic staff, by enhancing communications and connectivity between institutions.
5.31 We commend the foresight of the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) in investing in the development of MANs in Scotland through its Use of MANs initiative (UMI). The natural grouping of institutions in Scotland into four regions, each served by a MAN, offers a focus for future institutional collaboration in these functions.
5.32 Early in our work we met Professor Alistair MacFarlane, who chaired the committee which produced the report 'Teaching and Learning in an Expanding Higher Education System'.98 We share the view of that report that there is scope for more collaborative exploitation of networks and of electronic materials in expediting the core business of institutions - that of teaching and learning. Scotland is well-placed to exploit C&IT further by capitalising on the possibilities offered by the existing infrastructure and we believe that, 20 years from now, Professor MacFarlane's 'knowledge economy' might be realised. In the medium term, the collaborative sharing of administrative and support services across institutions might also be achieved. We believe that Scottish higher education institutions have a responsibility to lead on the use of the network infrastructure. We agree with the National Committee that this should be given priority by institutions as part of their C&IT strategies.
5.33 We have considered the report of the Scottish Advisory Group on the Academic Year, chaired by Professor Maxwell Irvine, and noted that efficiencies may be possible in some institutions by making use of the summer period for credit-bearing teaching. Efficiencies may also accrue to society and the economy if the sector offers opportunities for study in the summer, particularly for those who might have to interrupt or miss a semester due to other commitments. Although we are aware of the range of activities currently taking place in institutions in the summer, including, importantly, research activities and access courses, we believe that there may be merit in future in higher education institutions using their premises more extensively for teaching.
5.34 We have noted that there is already existing demand in Scotland for summer semester programmes from part-time students. Some institutions offer substantial programmes of credit-bearing teaching in the summer, largely in the part-time mode. As the distinction between full- and part-time students breaks down, we expect there to be increasing demand for such options from all types of students.
5.35 We expect increasing numbers of bridging and foundation programmes to be offered by institutions as part of the flexible arrangements that meet demands for wider access by a more diverse student body. These courses could facilitate articulation and transfer from Advanced Higher courses in schools, and from higher education programmes in further education colleges, into the second and third year in higher education institutions. We expect that some institutions will wish to specialise in such programmes. Alternatively, institutions might seek to make more intensive use of existing terms or semesters.
5.36 We believe that institutions themselves are best placed to decide how to make use of the summer period. We recommend, however, that the higher education funding council should have regard to the desirability of encouraging such provision in allocating funded places.
5.37 We have agreed that the principal and his or her management team must be visionary and enthusiastic champions of change. Given the challenges likely to be faced by institutions, the management team must be able to establish realistic targets for all aspects of their business, whilst adopting an open and communicative style, to gain commitment and ownership from the entire institution. Awareness by all staff of the institution's strategy will be essential as it is the staff that will make change happen. In short, all staff must be empowered to meet the institution's mission in a cost-effective manner. Ideas for improvement in performance, through better use of facilities, collaboration, more efficient teaching methods and so on, should be encouraged and implemented. Staff who make such a contribution should be rewarded by the institution.