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Making the Grade 2015

The key issues facing the UK higher education sector

The UK higher education sector remains a global leader, punching above its weight and annually generating over £30 billion for the UK economy. However, to retain this position it must address seven key challenges to become financially sustainable and customer centric.

A continuation of unprecedented change

Funding changes have transformed university revenue streams and demanded them to think even more innovatively than in the past. Rising student expectations twinned with the idea of ‘student as customer’ has come to the fore.

On the other hand, income for universities has grown, and the new tuition fee has provided universities with a more secure income stream than the rest of the public sector who have found themselves deep in austerity.

Infrastructure and technology expenditure are still growing, the UK faces stiff global competition, and the same questions over how best to foster a shared vision alongside distinctive individual strategies continues to be asked.

The key issues facing higher education

The 'Making the Grade' report has been informed by in-depth discussions with our clients and experience from projects implemented over the last four years, since the previous report.

The seven key issues highlighted:

  • Operating in a global market
  • Increasing costs and shifting funding
  • Rising student expectations
  • A demand and need for new technologies
  • Linking estates, strategy and the student
  • Attracting and retaining the best talent
  • Making research sustainable

Finding a clear way forward

The higher education sector must transform further in order to adapt to the seven key issues facing it. Progress has been made with regards to funding, global competition, research, estate strategy, technology and viewing the student as customer since 2011. But more must be done to fully turn these issues to the sector’s advantage.

The sector includes more than 150 separate institutions, all with their own context, circumstances, budgets, patterns of demand and strategies. While this diversity is one of the key strengths of this sector, every institution faces a similar set of challenges. Each must view them through their own prism and work to find its own answer to these shared issues. It will be an answer inextricably linked to the unique circumstances, culture and way of working. Each university will need to challenge itself and stretch itself, while also drawing on its intellectual curiosity and the qualities that make it a leading academic institution.

There is not and should not be a one-size-fits-all approach to the change required. Some solutions will work for some, whereas for others different approaches will be necessary. If each of these 154 institutions can find their solution, then they strengthen themselves but also the sector as a whole. And that sector in turn will bolster its hold over the international student market and continue to define itself as a global leader.  

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