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Latest news

UCL Effectiveness Review of Council

Feb 24, 2020

Halpin Partnership was appointed in January 2020 to conduct an independent review of the effectiveness of UCL’s Council and governance arrangements, following an invitation to provide a proposal and attend an interview.

Halpin is a specialist higher education consultancy, drawing on a team of Consulting Fellows who have a breadth of experience and expertise across diverse fields in the education, public and corporate sectors.

Following a period of open consultation, the review team will present its report and recommendations to the UCL Council on 18th June 2020.

Our response to frequently asked questions about the review can be found below.

Review Timeline


  • Introductory Meeting
  • Information Request
  • Council and Committee Observations

March – May

  • Desk review
  • Interviews
  • Council and Committee Observations
  • Focus Groups
  • Open Forum


  • Findings
  • Analysis
  • Report and recommendations
  • Presentation to Council


  • Publication of report (tbc)
  • Implementation of recommendations

Review Consultation

The review consultation period will remain open until the 30th May 2020.

Open Focus Group sessions for staff and students with be held at 11am and 3pm on the 18th and 24th March.

To attend a session please email your name to [email protected]

Refreshments will be provided and spaces are limited so we please ask that you only book a space on a session if you intend to attend.

If you would prefer to undertake a private consultation, please contact Halpin via the email address above.

Review Team

David Allen, Consulting Fellow

David is former university Registrar and Chief Executive of the University of Exeter. He has also held senior leadership roles in the universities of Birmingham, Nottingham, Southampton and Wales. At Halpin, David has worked on a governance reviews at University of Bath, the Royal College of Art and UUK. David is an acknowledged expert on corporate governance and risk management, having acted as Secretary to the Councils of three Russell Group universities. He was awarded an OBE in the 2012 New Year’s Honours list for services to higher education.

Susie Hills, Project Director

With an unrivalled depth of knowledge in higher education fundraising, leadership and governance, Susie has advised and supported leaders and teams at Universities across the UK, often during times of significant change. She led the review of the effectiveness of Council and its subcommittees at University at Bath, and also a review of governance effectiveness at Universities UK. Susie is highly skilled at undertaking reviews of strategy, performance and structures and is in demand as coach and mentor. In 2019 she was named as one of the Unilever Leading Lights in Kindness in the Financial Times. Susie is the Joint CEO and Co-founder of Halpin Partnership.

Rachel Killian, Senior Consultant

As a consultant with Halpin, Rachel has most recently worked on governance and strategic reviews with the universities of Kent, Sussex, Cumbria and Warwick Business School. With over 20 years of senior marketing and recruitment experience and works with clients to help them better understand their brand positioning and deliver on their strategic marketing campaigns. Rachel brings knowledge and understanding of higher education from experience in-house at a Russell Group university and business school before delivering on a range of marketing and recruitment consultancy projects across universities, colleges and schools.

Charlotte Stewart, Project Manager

Strategic, insightful, with a sharp eye for detail, Charlotte has more than 10 years’ experience in project delivery, management and research. Charlotte is one of the most experienced project managers in the UK higher education consultancy sector and her knowledge of project design and delivery – from large scale operations assessments to governance reviews – is unrivalled.

Ewart Wooldridge, Consulting Fellow

Ewart Wooldridge was the founding Chief Executive from 2003 to 2013 of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, set up to play a key role in developing UK and international HE leaders and their institutions. He has a well-established portfolio of consultancy, advisory and governance roles in the HE sector. He was previously Chief Executive of the Civil Service College, and a Chief Officer in Local Government. Before that he worked in HR and general management roles in the media, television, and the arts. He was Director of Operations at London’s South Bank Arts Centre in the mid-1990s.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. How was Halpin Partnership selected?

Halpin Partnership was appointed in January 2020 to conduct an independent review of the effectiveness of UCL’s Council and governance arrangements, following an invitation to provide a proposal and attend an interview.

2. What experience does Halpin have of governance reviews?

Information on the review team and their experience can be found at:

3. What should I do if I have questions about the review and/or would like to share my views?

The review consultation period will remain open until the 30th May 2020. Consultation will include interviews, focus groups and a dedicated email address where you can send your comments and questions:

[email protected]

Focus Group sessions with be held at 11am and 3pm on the 18th and 24th March. To attend a session please send you name to [email protected]

Refreshments will be provided and spaces are limited so we ask you only book a space on a session if you intend to attend.

4. Is the review independent?

The Halpin review team is entirely independent from UCL. The review team have no conflicts of interest in undertaking this work and the senior management team at UCL is not involved in the review in any capacity, other than as interviewees.

The review team’s points of contact at UCL are Wendy Appleby, Secretary to Council, and Anne Marie O'Mullane, Governance and Secretariat Manager. The review team has complete access to relevant documentation and information will be provided as requested.

5. Is the report being published, and if so when?

The report will be presented to the UCL Council at its meeting on 18th June 2020 where they determine if the report is to be published.

6. Will the review consider governance practice from outside the sector?

The review team includes experts in governance and remuneration, with experience both in and outside of the higher education sector. This will inform the recommendations in the report.

7. Will the University senior management team see the report prior to its publication?

Only members of senior management who are also members or attendees at Council will see the report when it is received by Council on 18th June 2020 and prior to any publication of the report.

As stated above, the Halpin review team will provide draft copy to UCL for fact-checking in early June. This is to ensure that we had not inadvertently included factually incorrect information or missed any key points of information or evidence. Any changes made after that point will be made at the discretion of the Halpin review team based on the information and evidence provided and after full and careful consideration.

8. What is the process for the review?

The process for the review will be described in full in the report.

9. Will you share data and consultation findings with UCL during the review process?

Sharing consultation findings is not part of the review methodology. The final report includes analysis of the data collected but comments and notes will not be provided to the University. All data will be destroyed at the end of the contract between Halpin and UCL, in line with our Data Protection policy as detailed here.

10. How will you ensure anonymity and confidentiality?

We will record the names of interviewees and focus group attendees for the purposes of scheduling. In the final report, we will not attribute any comments to any names.

11. Why will staff and students be included in the process?

A typical governance review would not include focus groups open to all staff and students. However, given the size and level of interest in governance across the University, it it is entirely appropriate that as wide a consultation takes place as possible.

12. How can the Halpin review team be contacted?

The Halpin team can be contacted via [email protected]

Halpin Partnership has a trusted relationship with its clients and operates with sensitivity, discretion and confidentiality. We do not comment on client projects to third-parties and will not be making any comments on the review undertaken for UCL.

For any media enquiries, please contact UCL’s Media Relations team via https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/services-media/contact-us.

If you have questions regarding the Halpin Partnership and the services we offer please visit our main website at www.halpinpartnership.com or contact [email protected]

International student recruitment in a volatile landscape

Feb 12, 2020

Universities are inherently international institutions. Being able to collaborate and exchange ideas across national borders – whether for research purposes or as a way to enrich the educational experience of all – is an essential aspect of being a university (and one that we sometimes take for granted).

However, we operate in a volatile global landscape where geopolitical and related factors present risks to some of our core activities. Global events can have an impact – sometimes almost overnight – on international relationships, with the effects cascading rapidly to HEIs and their students.

Geo-political factors affecting international student mobility

There are numerous different factors, outside the control of individual HEIs, which can affect student mobility between countries. Sometimes they alter the volume of students flowing out of a particular country, or the volume flowing into another country. Sometimes the effects on global mobility are more widespread and complex.

National policies

Changes in national policy, especially those relating to immigration, work rights or fee status, can have a profound effect. We saw this in the UK when the number of Indian students plummeted after the 2012 abolition of the two-year post study work visa; followed by a surge in applications when the new post study work route was announced in 2019.

Negative incidents

It’s not just about policies. The mood music is important too. If stories of rising nationalism and racist incidents are reported in both traditional and social media, this makes it difficult for universities to convey convincing messages about the warm welcome that international students can expect.

Political tensions

Back in 2018, a Tweet by a Canadian politician led to the almost immediate withdrawal of scholarships for many Saudi Arabian students in Canada. The US / China trade war has affected flows of Chinese students to the US.

Economic instability

Economic instability, recession and currency fluctuations all have an impact too. The UK tends to benefit when Sterling is weak and tuition fees seem more affordable, but students can face financial challenges if the value of their own currency against the pound deteriorates during the course of their studies.

Then, of course, there are public health emergencies, such as SARS in the early 2000s and the current coronavirus. For higher education, the effect of the latter has been most marked in the southern hemisphere because it has coincided with the start of the new academic year, preventing tens of thousands of students in China from joining their classmates in Australia. Foreign universities with campuses in China also face a significant delay to the start of term.

How can universities mitigate the risks?

All of the above factors are outside the control of universities. However, there are things that HEIs can put in place to improve their resilience in the face of such challenges.

Market diversification

Putting all your eggs in one basket is rarely a good idea and the UK (like Australia) has known for some time that its HE sector is over-reliant on Chinese students and that this is a risky position to be in. That the bubble has the potential to burst at any time is a point driven home by the coronavirus crisis. HEIs need to make strenuous efforts to target a range of established and emerging markets outside China, recognising the importance of building up long-term relationships in strategic locations with future potential, rather than looking solely to those countries which will yield quick returns.

Delivery mode flexibility

As we have seen with coronavirus, Australian HEIs have had to think on their feet about ways they can support their students stranded in China. Many have provided the opportunity to switch to online delivery so that students will not fall behind. It is important not to wait for a crisis to strike before considering different ways of delivering programmes which could rapidly be brought into play in a situation where students cannot be present on campus. The investment is valuable not just for crisis situations, but in order to be responsive to other imperatives (e.g. expectations around inclusivity and reducing carbon emissions).

Agile behaviours and clear communications

Many universities are ponderous organisations with clunky processes for getting new developments or initiatives off the ground. They need to develop agility so that responses to crises (whether that is providing financial support to counter a currency slump or validating alternative delivery modes) are swift and effective. Another important ingredient is clear and open communication with key stakeholders. Universities must recognise that operating effectively in a volatile global context requires an adapted set of behaviours and processes.

Dr Vicky Lewis is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin, the home of experts in higher education

Board secretaries - the unsung heroes of institutional reputation

Feb 07, 2020

This article by Susie Hills was first published by AHUA in spring 2019, ahead of their Annual Conference.

It’s been a winter of VC departures, with worrying stories of bullying cultures and conflicts of interest. These stories are playing to background media music that is painting the sector in a poor light. In turn, it’s feeding political noise around the need for greater regulation.

How many institutions could be sure that if the media cast its light on them there wouldn’t be even a whiff of a negative story, which could grow under external gaze into a full-blown storm?

While it may be the job of communications directors to handle any negative stories that emerge, the true protectors of an institution may actually be the board secretaries. Their role is to help ensure the many issues that may emerge in a complex institution are properly handled through the right governance procedures. Each of the recent stories to hit particular institutions have a governance element in play. Have conflicts of interest been properly handled? Have serious issues been effectively escalated? Are the right processes in place for nominations?

Given the pressures on board secretaries, they need to use all the tools they have at their disposal to ensure they are diligently fulfilling their role in a sector facing unprecedented change and scrutiny. One of the most important tools at their disposal is the external review.

Guidance from the Committee of University Chairs and Office for Students points to the need to review every four to five years. However, it might be hard to be sure that governance is in truly good health if the review was as long ago as two or three years ago, and wasn’t conducted by an external reviewer. Indeed, it is surprising that many institutions have never had an external review given the changing expectations around governance in the sector.

An external review should be more than a compliance tick box exercise; it should help you to develop your governance practices to ensure that you are compliant: managing risk, monitoring performance, understanding culture and developing longer-term strategy. It may be one of the most powerful tools you may have in protecting your institution from reputational risk. After all, if a governance issue emerges and you have never undertaken a review, then you have no way to show how you have developed and improved your governance practice.

A good review will help you to answer questions such as:

  • Do you have the right minds around the table?
  • Do you have a diversity of views?
  • How are students, staff and other stakeholders’ voices heard?
  • Is the right information being considered at the right time?
  • Are the right benchmarks in place?
  • Are the meetings working?
  • Is the right committee structure in place?
  • Are there the right levels of consultation?
  • How good is communication?
  • Is there a culture of transparency?
  • Are there the right levels of accountability in place?
  • Is communication and consultation effective?
  • Are we monitoring performance effectively?
  • Do we have the right skills around the table?
  • Is our governance supporting the delivery of our strategy?
  • Do we have effective risk management?
  • Is our financial governance robust?
  • Is our remuneration policy and practice compliant?

The recommendations emerging from an external review should help to provide a framework for strengthening governance, managing risk and protecting the reputation of an institution. It should equip a secretary to fulfil their role with confidence and authority. Indeed, it may enable a secretary to raise issues and make changes which have previously proved ‘too difficult’ by providing supportive evidence and offering a practical way forward. It should also enable board members and senior leaders to feel assured that they are following best practice and help protect their reputations.

Seeking an external review should not be prompted by a fear of failure and noncompliance – most institutions will be compliant. It should be about aiming for best practice and governance that supports your institution to thrive in uncertain times, driven by the desire to spot issues early and protect the reputation of the institution. It is a powerful tool and is simple to deploy.

Susie Hills is Joint CEO of Halpin, the home of experts in higher education governance.

HE: Marketing & Fundraising Risks & Issues 2020 3/3

Feb 03, 2020

At the beginning of a new year, and indeed a new decade, one of my first priorities was to approach our Halpin Advisory Group and ask them their thoughts on key issues they think VCs, Chairs and COOs will need to think about for the coming year. This group is a senior, experienced and cross-sector one, and their various perspectives are helpful and useful.

We started by discussing political implications for higher education, and the changes we might see from Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings are summarised in a blog co-authored by Tim Melville Ross and myself – check it out here. We then went on to discuss the strategic challenges that may well lie ahead.

In our second instalment, we looked at issues facing strategy and governance. In this third and final article we focus on the fundraising and marketing challenges facing universities in the coming years.

Student Satisfaction/Value for Money

Students now expect a university education to help them into a better job. This is what they have been told will happen for many years, and too often the reality is not meeting the expectation. The thrust of government rhetoric is around education as a private good – it’s good for you as an individual, so it’s right that you should pay. The idea of it as a public good – it’s good for society to have educated people – seems long gone. So, value for money then comes to the forefront. Are universities doing enough around employability? Student satisfaction and dramatic campus expansion do not appear to go hand-in-hand – how can universities cope with increased expectations, rising estate costs and increased competition? Do they want to become factories for producing employees? Do they have any choice?


Universities, collectively and individually, must regain the initiative in defining their raisons (intentionally plural) d’etre. In recent years, the government has redefined both the nature and the purpose of universities – and universities may not much like the outcome. How can universities lead the conversation on what they stand for, regain public trust and retain an international reputation? How do they reconcile embeddedness in the local community with international impact?

Furthermore, how can universities maintain the “UK-ness” of the sector, while developments within the UK are diminishing the common interests of the four nations? Universities need to define their individual distinctiveness. While it would be naïve to suggest a disregard for league tables, individual institutions need to identify – and declare publicly – their distinctive character (beyond “top in…” in some carefully chosen league table).


Universities must embrace more explicitly their responsibilities, as well as their opportunities, on the international stage. For example, do international students (studying in the UK) get the full educational experience they deserve? Are appropriate quality controls applied to TNE activities? The reputations of individual institutions are at risk – but also the reputation of the UK sector.

UK universities also need to be careful about their continuing heavy dependence on recruiting students from China. It has been predicted for some time, but at some point those students may well start to choose their home market, and in fact UK students may want to go to China to be taught Chinese languages and culture for the commerce of the 21st Century.

The paradigm shift for distance learning has still not quite arrived but is getting ever closer as technology improves. UK universities have to be desirable destinations physically and virtually.

Fundraising and alumni relations

Working with alumni is about much more than seeking donations. Alumni (and those they are connected with) can help with mentoring, work placements, internships, and intelligence on the international stage. As the competition for students becomes ever fiercer, alumni could give some universities the edge. Fundraising is still too often something that is semi-detached in institutions, where it isn’t aligned to strategy and isn’t supported by leadership. It is always in danger of being a Cinderella function – overlooked for other areas that deliver more to the bottom line. But it’s a long-term game, and rewards patience and investment.

Happy 2020

We could go on; we have just touched on some of the key issues here. You will have more that you might want to suggest and please feel free to join the discussion.

What is for certain is that HE will continue to change, and as always it will be those institutions who see the future clearly and respond who will thrive.

The good news is, whichever area/s of marketing and fundraising you’re currently wrangling with, we can help. We have senior-level experts who are specialists across all areas of university leadership.

Shaun Horan is Joint CEO of Halpin – the home of experts in higher education.

With grateful thanks to the Halpin Advisory Group for their input:

  • Tim Melville Ross CBE
  • Dame Angela Pedder DBE
  • David Allen OBE
  • Robert Dufton
  • Shakira Martin
  • Richard Taylor
  • Simon Gaskell

HE: Strategy & Governance Risks & Issues 2020 2/3

Jan 30, 2020

At the beginning of a new year, and indeed a new decade, one of my first priorities was to approach our Halpin Advisory Group and ask them their thoughts on key issues they think Vice-Chancellors, Chairs and COOs will need to think about for the coming year. This group is a senior, experienced and cross-sector one, and their various perspectives are helpful and useful.

We started by discussing political implications for higher education, and the changes we might see from Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings are summarised in a blog co-authored by Tim Melville Ross and myself – check it out here.

Of course, there are many more issues than politics to consider (although politics affects them all), and this is our second article in a series of three. Here, we focus on governance and the strategic issues and challenges facing universities in the coming years. We’ll wrap up in a third article which will consider marketing and fundraising challenges – keep an eye on social media for that soon.

Income Decline

The lack of financial sustainability is a huge risk to all universities. Student fees now often account for over half of the income of a university (and sometimes a lot more). Recruitment numbers are very unstable due to the creation of a market by the introduction of fees and removal of the numbers cap, allowing some universities to grow while others contract. Add in demographic dips and expansions, a student body who have a wholly different set of expectations compared with the past, and universities who have expanded rapidly and are now finding the student experience falling as a result.

Pensions, salaries and energy costs all feed into this too. In the current climate, risk-averse institutions could experience decline, but those who take big risks that don’t work out could also find themselves in trouble, or worse.

Governance & Remuneration

Sound governance requires organisations to seek out differing views and avoid ‘group think’ from a narrow, “people like me”, perspective. Do universities now have effective boards with clear executive/non-executive role clarification and appropriate holding to account? If those charged with governance are not inclusive and diverse in their membership, they are unlikely to effectively set the right culture and environment for the organisations they seek to lead.

After 8 relatively good years the shoe is starting to pinch, and all the fiscal headroom is committed. Governors must have a clear line of sight to cash and challenge unrealistic growth forecasts which simply mask future deficits. Governance will come under pressure and chairs and senior governors might increasingly be paid.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)

There will be an ever increasing (and highly welcome) focus on EDI, because of the push from regulators, students and staff, but more importantly because it’s the right thing to do. HE’s record in this area is very poor, and significant steps need to be taken to show where your institution is, and what it needs to do in order to look more like the society it is meant to serve.

Social Mobility

It seems that every week a new report comes out to show how poor the UK is at enabling social mobility, whether that is aimed at Russell Group universities, buying property in London, or challenges in the areas of the country that have voted Conservative for the first time. Progress is being made by universities in this area, but expect ever-increasing pressure here from the regulator, government, the media and students.

Recruitment & Retention of staff

The days when HEIs bet the house on REF have receded, and for most institutions we will not see them buying in big research teams wholesale on a regular basis just for the REF. But recruiting and retaining excellent academic and professional services colleagues, especially in the context of Brexit, is going to be increasingly challenging.

There is a concern about the academic pipeline for the future. Are people in their 20s and 30s thinking about academia as a career? Career pathways are unclear and very uncertain. There is a perceived culture of patronage. In non-STEM areas, particularly, it can be an isolated and lonely existence. Funding and employment are fixed-term or short-term. Lack of any security of tenure makes obtaining things like mortgages almost impossible (although that seems to be true for most young people whatever their profession). Consequently, many of the brightest and best choose other paths. Historic easy reliance on a European or overseas workforce is likely to change if the UK post-Brexit is less attractive to good candidates.


The English sector must come to terms with the fact that there is now an assertive regulator, which behaves in a very different way to the “partnering” approach of HEFCE. The notion of “co-regulation” is rejected by the OfS. The term should be abandoned by the sector and replaced by a closely argued case for the pursuit of shared (between regulator and regulatees) interests in educational quality and international quality research, both pure and applied.

Industrial action

Concerns on pensions and working conditions don’t have easy solutions, and disputes are likely to remain a feature of the first half of this decade. A number of universities blame strikes on a dip in their NSS scores. Staff say universities are not listening to them and that they have student support. Whatever the truth is, universities had better gear up their resilience to industrial action, and that will not be easy to achieve.

Sustainability & Zero Carbon

Universities have enormous estates, and a significant opportunity to contribute and lead in the “Green New Deal” agenda. However, old buildings are costly to maintain and often not fit for purpose. Is a technology that seems green now going to be found to be part of the problem in 10 years’ time (for which, see diesel cars)? Making the right estates decisions could be a real attraction point for the right places. The opposite is also true.

The challenges are myriad in a highly complex sector, and the solutions can only be worked out in collaborations and partnerships. We work in partnership with universities and we are here to help, in whatever areas of governance and strategy you’re currently wrangling with. We have senior-level experts who are specialists across all areas of university leadership. We understand universities like no other consultancy.

Shaun Horan is Joint CEO of Halpin – the home of experts in higher education.

With grateful thanks to the Halpin Advisory Group for their input:

  • Tim Melville Ross CBE
  • Dame Angela Pedder DBE
  • David Allen OBE
  • Robert Dufton
  • Shakira Martin
  • Richard Taylor
  • Simon Gaskell

Case Study: University of Strathclyde

Jan 28, 2020

Client: University of Strathclyde

Service: Fundraising Consultancy – Alumni and Development Services Review

What we did:

Halpin was engaged by University of Strathclyde (winners of THE’s University of the Year 2019) to undertake a review of fundraising performance. The university was also looking to formulate a future strategy. Strathclyde has an unusually distinctive, clear and important vision.

University of strathclyde.jpg

We found an Alumni & Development Services department which was well-led, working hard and doing the right things. Halpin’s team of fundraising experts analysed the many strengths of the existing fundraising function, and also identified areas for future focus. We met with the senior leadership team and key volunteers, enabling us to form a good overall picture.

Working in partnership with Strathclyde, we identified many opportunities for future growth and suggested some changes in order help the university realise its fundraising ambitions.

Our final report summarised our findings across principal gifts, corporate partnerships and foundations, prospect pipeline management, international fundraising, profile raising and projects, major gifts productivity, senior volunteers and the timelines and targets.

The University of Strathclyde now has a roadmap to a future campaign, or to increased fundraising potential, with 13 recommendations to implement.

What they said:

“Halpin undertook a full review of our fundraising function, at a time when the University of Strathclyde was ready to consider where it could increase its donor funding and its impact. Importantly, this review felt like a real partnership effort, led by consultants who had recently walked in our shoes, and one that enabled our fundraising team and our senior leadership to fully understand where Strathclyde’s fundraising opportunities and challenges now lay.

If you want to take your fundraising operation to the next level then I’d highly recommend Halpin to help you get there.”

Karen Boyle LLB, Head of Alumni & Development

HE: Political Risks & Issues 2020 - 1/3

Jan 23, 2020

So, we have started a new year, and a new decade. The first half of that looks like it might have a Conservative government in stable power (although don’t underestimate the power of Brexit to take more unexpected turns).

What should HE be thinking about the politics of the first half of the roaring 20s?

What happens to universities over the next few years will be substantially influenced at the political level by two things:

  • Conservative success in constituencies that have in the past mostly voted Labour.
  • The Conservative Party Manifesto.

The first of those will prompt more investment in those constituencies than would otherwise have been the case. It will mean pressure on universities to do more to fulfil their “place” obligations through wider civic engagement, closer relationships with schools and colleges.

The Conservative Manifesto

The Manifesto (p37) says positive things about the Augar Review. Whether the Augar fee recommendations are taken onboard is unknown, but they could very well address the issue of the balance of funding between universities, further education, apprenticeships and lifelong learning. The last of those may be reinforced by the OfS looking at universities’ success in increasing access across all ages.

Page 40 in the manifesto also makes some heavyweight comments on research, to which universities should pay attention in terms both of their own research strategies and where funding for this is likely to come from in future.

Education for adults or children?

Running through some of the points above, there is clearly a need for more attention to be paid to adult learning. But, looking earlier in life, universities should also be active in any review of schools and colleges which seek to do a better job of guiding young people into the right kind of education from, say, 14 onwards. There is also the need, well-documented in Augar, to fill an obvious gap in our present arrangements for delivering level 5 and 6 qualifications. Apprenticeships are not doing the job properly.

Many are already well advanced in some of the above areas, for example taking “place” seriously and working with other local education providers, but many are not and would do well to get themselves ahead of a changing game.

Government and Opposition

With the size of their current majority, and an opposition that is in rebuilding mode, the Government will think it has little to fear from the Opposition. We might therefore expect some surprises from influential advisers that could be quite radical for the sector. So called elite universities might have more of a struggle to be heard in that environment.

If Labour is able to mount an effective opposition, the Government will have to keep its promises to the North or lose all those red wall seats, especially if Brexit doesn’t deliver what is hoped for and results in increased unemployment in Brexit-voting areas.

Added to this, the devolved nations will need a great deal of attention and tact to hold off Indyref 2, avoid a border poll in NI under the Good Friday agreement and retain Conservative gains in Wales. Also, if a candidate such as Keir Starmer is elected for the Labour party, we might expect a progressive alliance since he will be credible to rally around given that probably only combined opposition parties can form a Government in 2024.

HE or FE?

Overall, we can expect much more discussion of investment in the 50% who don’t go to university, especially in a skills-hungry, post-Brexit economy. Colleges and employers may be the beneficiaries, but universities will want to be part of this, and will need to introduce more degree apprenticeships and related qualifications. At what point do FE colleges and more-vocational universities look so much like each other that community universities are formed? Devolved mayors will also have a bigger say in coordinating provision strategically.

Fees and final thoughts

It seems unlikely that we will see a headline cut in fees, although that can’t be ruled out, but fees will probably be held at the current level for the Parliament. The Russell Group might be protected because of research, but Chris Milward seems serious about fair access, and we might expect more contextual admissions.

Overall, it is difficult to see institutions being exactly as they are now in the future. Indeed, it is difficult to see some surviving in their current forms. It may be those that embrace change early will thrive, or at the very least survive.

The good news is that whichever area/s you’re currently wrangling with, Halpin can help. We have senior-level experts who are specialists across all areas of university leadership. If you want our thinking and action alongside yours, get in touch.

This is the first article in a series of three where we discuss risks and issues for 2020 and beyond in higher education. In our second article, we focus on governance and strategy - check it out here.

Shaun Horan - Joint CEO of Halpin, and Tim Melville Ross CBE - Halpin Consulting Fellow

How to rescue 'marketisation' from the sin bin

Jan 20, 2020

Marketisation has become a dirty word in higher education. Here's how it can be rescued from the sin bin.

Three news items caught my eye over Christmas and New Year. First was the news that the OfS is planning to come down hard on universities that offer financial incentives to students in Clearing. Second, was the prediction in The Times that all students at some universities will receive first class degrees by 2030. Third was the report this week that drop-out rates among students who had accepted unconditional offers were nearing 20% in some institutions.

Last year’s unlamented Augar report argued that “since the opening up of the sector, universities have increased and professionalised their marketing” and as evidence, cited universities spending millions on advertising, offering cash in hand inducements, inflating grades, lowering entry requirements and proliferating unconditional offers.

For me, all this is clear evidence of marketing failure. Anyone can put more bums on lecture theatre seats by lowering the bar, offering bribes and promising the illusion of a high-quality degree. This is not marketing. It’s nothing more than cheap and shoddy sales promotion that belong to the bazaar, not British higher education.

Professional marketing is about understanding your target market and delivering a product or service that fulfils their needs and wants better than competition. In most universities, this means recognising that you will live or die by your ability to attract tuition fee income. And if what you offer students is perfectly suited to what they need and want, you will not only survive but prosper.

Just as universities need to learn about the importance of being different and distinctive, so they also need to professionalise their marketing by offering degree programmes that are distinctive and competitive within their comparator groups. Check out a dozen university websites and you’ll come across generic claims, generic language, generic strategies and generic mission statements.

The same is very largely true for degree programmes. Very few make the effort to be distinctively relevant to the student audience they’re supposed to be appealing to. Why? Because they are developed by academics who on their own have neither the competitive skillset nor the customer understanding that a professional marketer brings to the table.

Which is why I argue that it is time for academia and marketing to start working hand in glove. Working together to answer questions as fundamental as why should a student choose this programme over a competitor? What is the programme’s USP? Does it understand what students are looking for? Is the programme name distinctive? Is its proposition strong enough to attract students away from a competitor?

It’s tough enough to get on a student’s UCAS short-list, which is why distinctiveness in university positioning is critical. But once you’re on that list, the programme itself is the single biggest determinant of choice. Maximising conversion from a shortlist of five is programme-driven. CRM is fine at brand level but doesn’t work at programme level. Here we’re talking about real differences, not perceptual nuances.

Making programmes distinctive, relevant and more attractive to students nourishes the university’s overall reputation. By demonstrating that your institution understands what students value and goes out of its way to deliver at programme level.

Unconditional offers, clearing ‘bursaries’ and rampant degree inflation demean not only the universities involved but the sector as a whole in the eyes of the public. Like it or not, universities are now operating in competition with each other.

To succeed in a competitive world, you need to have a product which meets customer needs better than competition. In higher education, this means academia and marketing working together to achieve a common goal.

Only then might the word ‘marketisation’ be rescued from the sin bin.

David Miller is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin - the home of expert consultants in higher education marketing, fundraising, governance and strategy.

Recruitment opportunity - University of Sheffield

Jan 20, 2020

Our client University of Sheffield is recruiting two senior positions within the newly created Department of Campaigns and Alumni Relations.

For more information we've provided the links below:

Director of Campaigns The University of Sheffield is seeking to recruit a Director of Campaigns (permanent or interim) to work in partnership with the Vice Chancellor and senior leadership to develop and deliver the university’s first major campaign.

Deputy Director of Campaigns The University of Sheffield is seeking to recruit a Deputy Director of Campaigns to support and shape the University’s fundraising strategy and major gift fundraising to help deliver the University’s first major campaign.

Closing date for applications is 20 February 2020.

3 questions governors should ask of their executive/marketing team

Jan 13, 2020

As a governor, you want to feel confident in the decisions you make. Many of your board decisions will be informed by student recruitment trends and predictions; after all, there's a good chance your institution's financial health is heavily dependent on student fee income.

Given this, as the UCAS deadline of January 15th passes, it’s likely that you’ll be taking some time to assess the current recruitment position.

Your starting point is the internal application data of course; for example, 2020 cycle trends vs previous years, actual applications vs planned by subject, the team’s predictions and projections. You’ll probably also be interested to view the data published by UCAS on the 6th February which will give a sector-wide view of application trends by age, country and subject.

So, you’ll have the data. But is this enough? Are you confident that you have the full picture? Do you have the assurance you need in order to confidently make your decisions? If not, then try asking these three questions to give you further insight and understanding:

  1. What makes us so special? It might not be possible to be completely different to our competition, but how are we distinctive? And where's the evidence that our audiences believe - and value - this distinctiveness? There should be clear metrics in place to measure performance; after all, it’s critical to know what success looks like.

  2. Where are we most vulnerable? Even if the data looks great, what’s going to limit our success next year – and the 5 years after that? Which of the three key phases of the applicant funnel – awareness, interest or conversion – is the biggest challenge, and why? What do we need to do about it? After all, to succeed in a competitive market, you need to be winning at every stage.

  3. Where should we be doubling our efforts? Any successful marketing plan will have a range of different tools available to the team; the art of marketing is often in mixing those tools together at the right time in the right way. However, this question identifies the one activity that is currently delivering the best results and allows clarity on where resource should be focused. This is especially useful if resource is limited, or if urgent adjustments are needed; it signals what is really working.

If you’d some support in digging deeper into your marketing and recruitment data or insights, we’d be happy to arrange a call to discuss. Get in touch here.

Rachel Killian is a Senior Consultant for Halpin, the home of experts in higher education governance, marketing, fundraising and strategy.