The universities sector is facing “a massive challenge” in maintaining standards in a climate of public sector cuts, a conference was told.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said all the main political parties were intending to make spending cuts and higher education bodies across the UK should work together to make efficiencies.
Speaking at the London Universities Purchasing Consortium Conference, she said the sector in England made procurement efficiencies of £153 million in 2013/14, up on £132 million in 2011/12, while collective spend in 2013/14 was up to £1.6 billion.
Against a collaborative spend target of 30 per cent of non pay spend by 2016, the sector in England was at 25.7 per cent in 2013/14, Dandridge said.
“There is a huge need for a national initiative in addressing this challenge, partly because of the complexity, but also because it’s clearly an area where acting collectively we can do so much more than individually,” she said.
“It’s not just about absorbing cuts, it’s about how we stay ahead of the pack and find the resources to do that.”
Dandridge said modernisation was “absolutely necessary” in the face of “marketisation” of the sector and budget cuts. She said “there is a lot we can learn” from other sectors about strategies such as shared services and outsourcing.
“There is a massive challenge we are facing,” she said. “We have all the political parties making it absolutely clear they want to reduce the deficit. The only way in which they can reduce the deficit is by making cuts. I think this is going to be an extremely tough time. Unprotected services maybe facing cuts of 33 per cent in the next parliament.
“If we’re looking at a Labour government with £6,000 fees, that’s going to put even more pressure on budgets and make things even tougher for universities.”