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5 smart reasons to review your portfolio

by Rachel Killian | May 7, 2019 | Strategy & Transformation

If there was a bingo list of the phrases that university managers would least like to hear, I suspect “portfolio review” would be near the top. But the size, shape and substance of the courses on offer is at the heart of a university’s purpose, and it is neglected at your peril.

Portfolio reviews can be at faculty level or university-wide. They may focus on just undergraduate or PGT courses, or may include everything else ranging from online provision or short courses, to degree apprenticeships and the doctoral programme.

In this post, we’ll share five reasons for reviewing your portfolio and some of the different perspectives on how you might assess each programme.

1. Market demand. Do you remember the “If you build it, he will come” mantra from Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams (1989)? Those of us born before c.1980 will know that Shoeless Joe Jackson did indeed turn up to pitch a few balls in the end. Alas, happy endings are not so easy to find in today’s world of higher education, so having evidence that there is a market for each course is the first, important step. Market analysis has two steps; the first is to understand the current demand and application trends for each subject, and the second is to analyse your own performance within it.

2. Financial health.Buoyant student recruitment doesn’t necessarily lead to good financial returns, though it usually helps. If a course isn’t making sufficient financial contribution, then consider whether an increase in student numbers would be possible. If not, can the cost base be improved through removing inefficiencies in how it is structured or delivered?

3. Graduate outcomes. The proportion of your students in graduate roles will influence league tables and invariably also end up in your own marketing messages. How this is measured is an issue worthy of debate, but the basic principle is a good one – students deserve an education that will enable them to find a job at a reasonable level, and succeed in it. If your course isn’t preparing your students for their future, then something has to change.

4. Employer needs. Related to #3, but from a different viewpoint. The headline that 85% of the jobs that will be needed in 2030 don’t exist yet is complete hogwash, but the bigger point is that new skills and expertise in emerging technologies are likely to be in demand over the coming years. Courses and modules need to be updated to reflect these changing needs if they – and your graduates – are to remain relevant.

5. Student experience. Another league table measurement and (quite rightly) the hot topic of higher education conferences and university committees alike. For all the NSS detail available to you, nothing beats listening to your students. They are living and breathing the reality of studying on their course and their stories will help you to easily identify the things that work – and those that need fixing.

Above all, any portfolio review needs to make sure that the objectives and principles have a good fit with your institution. What’s right for one university won’t be right for another. Also remember that the whole point of a portfolio is that it includes a range of courses; not everyone has to fit the same mould or play an equal role, and there’s usually room in there for a good few outliers.

If you are preparing for your institution’s future and would like a conversation about reviewing your portfolio, contact rachel.killian@halpinpartnership.com.