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Exhibitors briefing

Thank you for taking part in the Exhibition at the UCISA CISG15 Conference.  The support you and your fellow exhibitors give UCISA is greatly appreciated and we hope that you have a productive couple of days in St Andrews.  The following briefing focuses on the current issues in the sector, the real challenges that the Conference delegates are facing, and is intended to help you get the most out of the event.

The focus within higher education institutions over the past four years has been on improving the student experience, streamlining processes and improving facilities.  The impetus for this work was provided by the White Papers published by the UK and Scottish Governments in 2011, encouraging institutions to put students at the heart of the centre.  Whilst this has led to core business processes being streamlined using techniques such as Lean, there is growing recognition that engagement with the student body needs to be contiguous over the whole student lifecycle.  This is reflected in the increased use of customer relationship management systems, particularly during the recruitment process, and the growth in the number of student focused systems in HEIs.  These (and all the other systems required by the student) need to be available at all hours on a plethora of devices.

There continues to be pressure on resources – both in terms of ensuring that the IT service department is operating efficiently and that the services it delivers contribute to the overall effective operation of the institution.  Suppliers can play a key role in helping address both pressures.  Most institutions now provide IT services through a blended model, making use of cloud of cloud provision for a range of services but also retaining a number of key systems in house.  The reasons for moving services to the cloud vary (the Cloud briefing paper UCISA produced in 2011 highlights these) but one real benefit is that it allows systems to be scoped for every day load, rather than for peak demand, with the ability to burst to make use of additional capacity at peak times.  Secondly, integration has always been a challenge; HEIs are looking to suppliers to help ease this burden through the development of open APIs.  Greater use of standards or open APIs will help reduce the cost of change as software is upgraded or replaced.  Finally, there is recognition that HEIs may not be using software as effectively as they might and may not be making good use of best practice embedded in the software.  We are starting to see the relationship between the supplier and institution change, to move towards a closer partnership where HEIs work with the supplier to discuss solutions to problems and deliver the optimum solutions.

The growth in the use of analytics, particularly for retention, continues.  Further, with the increase in competition between institutions, more institutions are carrying out scenario planning exercises to model the impact of variations in student numbers on institutional finances and resources.  Such uses place added emphasis on the need for information to be both timely and accurate.  The proposed HESA Data Landscape will require data to be available for reporting on a more regular basis which will strengthen the requirement for timely and accurate data.  Andy Youell of HEDIIP will be talking about the new Data Landscape on Friday morning.


The release of the Green Paper on Higher Education Teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice is a clear signal that the Westminster Government is looking to shape the English higher education more than at any point in the previous five years.  The Scottish Government is also seeking to exert its influence the sector with its HE Governance Bill and there may be further changes proposed in the build up to the Scottish elections in May 2016.  In addition to the Green Paper, there are also consultations on the National Student Survey and HESA Data Landscape underway.  The sector is also subject to other recently introduced legislation including the Counter Terrorism and Security Act (the PREVENT strategy).  This all suggests that the pace of change will increase and the pressure on resources will grow in the coming years; universities will have to ensure that they are working effectively whilst at the same time investing in delivering quality teaching and services to their student body.

There are some clear trends in the legislation but equally there are areas that remain uncertain at this point in time.  The proposed Teaching Excellence Framework will require institutions to gather a body of evidence to support their claim of excellence.  Jo Johnson, the minister for Higher Education, is already making use of data from UCAS in an attempt to gain evidence on the effectiveness of the widening participation strategies at top universities.  And there is a private members bill currently proceeding through Parliament, intended to make universities more accountable for how student fees are spent.  All of which places a premium on institutions holding quality data covering all areas of the operation.

The sector is getting more competitive – this is in part due to the cap on student numbers being lifted in England but also because the demographic breakdown of the student cohort is changing.  The number of part time and mature students is falling following the introduction of higher fees and the Green Paper includes little to suggest that measures will be in place to arrest that fall.  The number of eighteen year olds is falling year on year until 2020 and institutions are looking to fill any shortfall by recruiting from the EU and beyond.  International (non-EU) recruitment though remains vulnerable to the negative perception abroad of the Home Office’s immigration strategy.  Although the Green Paper appears to make it easier for new providers to enter the sector, it is not clear whether this will encourage any to enter the market.

So it remains a complex picture and possibly more volatile than at any times in previous years.  Institutions are going to be faced with a number of challenges and will be looking to work with their suppliers to help address them.  It will be for you to recognise those challenges and identify solutions to allow HEIs to continue to meet their core mission whilst taking advantage of the best technical solutions available.

I hope that you find this briefing a useful aid to your conversations with the delegates.  For further updates on activity within the sector please check the UCISA website.  A web version of this briefing including links to the resources mentioned has been posted on the UCISA website in the Exhibitors area of the Conference.  Additionally, you may be interested to know that I occasionally blog on current issues and the work that UCISA carries out.  Finally, I would like to remind you that the Conference sessions are open to exhibitors and would encourage you to drop in to the sessions as they may well give you further insight on the challenges currently facing the sector.

The UCISA team and CISG Committee look forward to meeting you in St Andrews.

Peter Tinson
UCISA Executive Director

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