Universities rise to the efficiency challenge


Efficiency programmes at the University of Leeds are highlighted in a new report that shows how UK universities are saving billions by sharing high-value resources and using innovative technologies.

Major efficiency drives by the UK’s higher education institutions have contributed to savings of £1.38 billion between 2005 and 2011, with millions of pounds reinvested in the sector.

The ‘Making the Best Better’ report, commissioned by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and produced by the N8 consortium of research-intensive universities (Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and York), highlights a range of efficiency programmes.

These include:

  • The University of Leeds saved almost £1m a year on energy costs by joining forces with Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust to build their own combined heat and power plant.
  • A £3.25 million world-leading High Performance Computing facility shared across the N8 universities and hosted by the University of Leeds is giving scientists access to a larger and higher specification machine that would not otherwise be affordable for one institution.
  • At the University of Manchester, a £460,000 lecture recording scheme now allows students to listen to tutors through podcasts, with a large increase in student satisfaction and attainment.

Minister of State for Universities and Science David Willetts said: "This interesting report shows the UK's universities at their best; innovating and pushing boundaries.

“By working together with other institutions and businesses, universities not only benefit from cost efficiencies, but greatly improve student experiences, from offering lectures as podcasts, to giving them the chance to work with high-performance equipment."

The report also makes the case that institutional autonomy allows for efficiency savings to be reinvested in the creation of knowledge and to improve the student experience and shows that the ring-fencing of the science budget within BIS as one of the incentives for universities to make efficiencies in other areas, for example in procurement.

Sarah Jackson, Director of the N8, said: “UK universities are tremendous drivers of the economy and our success is crucial to the nation as a whole – the sector is spending £8bn capital on research and teaching facilities over the next three years, and helping to get the economy moving.

“But we know we need to use our resources in better ways to deliver maximum efficiency. One key innovation detailed in the report is the emergence of asset-sharing arrangements within groups of universities, such as the N8 and M5. These schemes allow institutions access to research equipment across the groups, maximising their usage and also opening up university facilities to industry”

The asset-sharing approach has resulted in the creation of a High Performance Computing Centre managed by the University of Manchester and hosted by University of Leeds, used by industry partners including IBM and Unilever. Other examples in the report include a new joint facility between the BBC and University College London for digital content, equipped with a shared virtual studio and virtual reality facilities, and the Midlands Physics Alliance between the Universities of Birmingham, Nottingham and Warwick.

The report also highlights the increasing demands on university finances, for example in key areas such as widening participation, co-investment with business and industry, and capital infrastructure.

Professor Chris Brink, Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University and Chair of the N8, said: “The report demonstrates how, over the past decade, the sector has been focused on improving effectiveness at the same time as realising significant efficiencies.

“We are  working in collaboration as the N8 to share research assets and combine research strengths. For example, pooling resource to support the N8 High Performance Computing facility means we have access to state of the art kit, which supports new and better science and is better for business.”

Further information:

For enquiries about ‘Making the Best Better’ contact: Abi Kelly, Director of Public Relations, Newcastle University. Tel: 0191 222 7850.

For enquiries about the N8 Research Partnership contact: Dawn Tudge or Samantha Davidson, Horizonworks Marketing. Tel: 0191 211 1948.

 ‘Making the Best Better’ will help inform the next Spending Review in 2013 and help share best practice across the sector. To view the report go to: http://www.n8research.org.uk/assets/files/EfficiencyReportFinal.pdf