UniForum Insights

Welcome to UniForum Insights, short articles reflecting the UniForum program’s research into best practices in administration and support services in universities and other education institutions.

Since its inception in 2009, the UniForum collaboration has involved 49 institutions in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with research coordinated by Cubane Consulting.

The UniForum institutions are varied in their scale, research intensity, discipline mix and funding. This diversity offers members insights on a range of factors that influence how administrative services are delivered, and their relative efficiency and effectiveness.

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Service Delivery & Transformation

The price of freedom: when the cost of adapting professional services to meet local needs becomes too high (and what to do about it)

Balancing BallsApril 2020 - University senior managers have long been aware that they interfere with academic independence and freedom at their peril. This extends to professional support services as much as research or teaching focus: managers of individual academic units (e.g. departments or research centres) often feel they serve their constituents best by recruiting to roles, configuring systems, or putting in place processes that have been designed with local priorities in mind.

Service Effectiveness

Money can’t buy happiness when it comes to satisfaction with service (but raising awareness of what to expect can help)

Approaches to Transform Service DeliveryJune 2019 - What actions will have most impact when trying to improve staff satisfaction with your university’s support and administration services? Research based on the survey responses from thousands of academic and professional staff across the world at universities involved in the global UniForum program, shows that there are some straightforward actions to take in order to improve satisfaction levels quickly – and notably, investing heavily in the services isn’t one of them.

Service Delivery & Transformation

Seven ways to make functional ‘business partner’ roles a success at your university

Interlinked RopesFebruary 2019 - Almost every university at one time or another has introduced the role of ‘business partner’ to help bridge the gap between faculties, schools and central professional services like Finance, HR, and IT. Getting this role right is fraught with complexity and challenge, and so it’s no surprise that levels of success vary widely. Tricky questions and choices include: is it better to recruit people with specialist expertise from out of sector? Should they have a team? How senior should they be and who should they report to? Cubane’s research identifies seven key factors that help universities to get maximum value from this important role.

University Administration Benchmarking

Creating more space in your budget for investment in the academic mission - is growth the answer?

Woodland TreesDecember 2018 - A common misconception is that any university which is increasing its teaching and research income will naturally reduce its administration spend as a proportion of income. Our benchmarking research suggests this benefit is small and only starts to become material for universities with less than £300m (US$400m) in teaching and research income, and even then will require significant growth to derive any efficiency benefits. The approach to materially reduce administration’s share of income depends on the scale of the university, its relative administration efficiency and the timeframe in which it wishes to achieve this change.

Service Effectiveness

How understanding the service needs of staff can unlock higher satisfaction

Communicating TreesNovember 2018 - Cubane has analysed 1,400,000 responses to a worldwide survey of user satisfaction with admin services. The findings? There is remarkable consistency in what staff appreciate most about particular services that support them. Ignore these, and a university might focus and invest heavily in things that aren’t valued. Focus on these, and they can substantially increase staff satisfaction within a surprisingly short time.