In the UK, there are currently over 160 universities, boasting a collective student body exceeding 2 million and supported by a workforce of over 200,000 staff. These institutions contribute significantly to the economy, with a combined income of £43.9 billion and generating £130 billion overall. The higher education sector has recently undergone a disruptive phase, with 69% of institutions experiencing considerable change. While the COVID-19 pandemic acted as a catalyst, the sector has recognised the imperative for substantial transformation across academic and professional service departments for several years.
The primary challenges faced by most institutions today include the need to prioritise changes, particularly in the context of sustainability encompassing environmental, social, and economic responsibilities. This involves addressing policy considerations, migration issues, and managing fees and places. Creating inclusive and diverse environments, managing legacy estates on university campuses, and right-sizing institutions to align with evolving needs are also top priorities. Additionally, adapting to and adopting new ways of working is crucial for staying relevant in the evolving higher education landscape.
For many universities, the complex and multifaceted challenge of transformation is exacerbated by the siloed nature of faculties and departments, varying paces and readiness for change, the diversity of the portfolio, and numerous interdependencies across the institution. Successful transformation requires a strategic vision and a collaborative, inclusive approach that addresses the unique needs of diverse stakeholders. Breaking down organisational silos, fostering a culture of innovation, and promoting cross-disciplinary collaboration are essential elements for navigating these challenges and allowing universities to effectively meet the demands of the future.