Efficiency Drive Saves Billions
A UK-based efficiency drive is reporting some impressive results. A group of UK universities saved £1.38 billion ($2.09 billion) between 2005 and 2011 by investing in innovative technologies aimed at increasing efficiencies. The specifics of the program are highlighted in a recent report.
The "Making the Best Better" report was commissioned by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) with the assistance and involvement of the N8 Partnership of research-intensive universities, a consortium that includes the Universities of Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York.
The aim of the report was to document and analyze evidence of efficiencies within the higher education research community.
Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts highlighted some of the lessons learned, stating: "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," he added.
The study presents a record of successes that extends back nearly a decade, beginning with that £1.38 billion reduction from 2004 and 2007. Research Councils contributed another £428 million in savings during the current funding period.
These efficiencies were achieved with two main thrusts. The first being increased domestic and international competition, and the second, a so-called science ring fence, which allows reinvestment of savings to promote top-notch performance of universities.
The ten-year track record points to both operational and productive efficiencies, with subsequent improvements in research and teaching. "This strong link between driving efficiencies and improving student experience and better research is increasing investment in skills, knowledge and human capital," the report notes.
The universities are extracting more value from capital budgets by reorganizing resources into clusters of excellence and negotiating shared equipment agreements. The strategy results in state-of-the-art facilities, like the jointly-owned £3.25 million High Performance Computing (HPC) center, a larger and more powerful machine than any single institution could afford.
According to the report, "the increased effectiveness of the system is delivering both greater outputs for science and research, and also greater impact in the global marketplace: generating new knowledge, leveraging private investment in R&D and increasing the quality of human capital. This pays a critical role in the industrial strategy, supporting innovation and growth in the economy."
One of the biggest, and perhaps surprising findings of this research, is the realization that these research groups were already engaged in driving efficiency and had been for some time, but the messaging wasn't there.
In the words of Professor Sir Ian Diamond: "The universities are good at telling people about their exciting research, but not about how much money has been saved."