The Augar Review and senior talent acquisition: this is what it means for HE

Augar Review and senior talent acquisition

Sarah Shaw, Partner & Head of Odgers Interim’s Education Practice discuss the impact of the Augar Review on higher education recruitment and resourcing

Delivered against the backdrop of a bewildering political narrative, Brexit chaos and a volatile policy landscape, it is difficult to make any definitive claims about the potential impact of the Augar Review’s recommendations – especially as it may be dead in the water with the change in Prime Minister. Nonetheless, the scope of the mammoth 200 page document is matched only by the depth of its considerations, giving rise to proponents and naysayers from all corners of the education sector. Whilst the proposed reduction in the tuition fee cap took initial centre stage, the Review throws a spotlight on curriculum value, university spending and socio-economic discrimination across student intakes. If acted upon, these are the areas which are likely to have an effect on higher education recruitment and resourcing at a senior level.

‘Low-value’ higher education courses came under fire for poor return on investment and failing to meet the career aspirations of the students who studied on them. Unless the sector makes progress in either removing these courses or improving the outcomes for the students on them, the Review suggests government intervention in the form of a minimum entry threshold and/or selective numbers cap. Given the increasing pressures around higher education institutions delivering value for money, it is a recommendation most universities are taking seriously; we are seeing an increasing number of Programme Directors and Academic Leads being called upon to review university curriculums and assess course design and outcomes. Looking at the future higher education landscape, we can expect these roles to have an even stronger focus on curriculum vitality to ensure courses attract and retain enough students, produce strong employability outcomes and are reputationally beneficial.

The cost of delivering higher education received similar levels of scrutiny. In comparison to their international counterparts, UK universities were found to spend more of their income on non-teaching related activities. Whilst much of this was in relation to student support and widening participation, negative media attention around vice-chancellor pay and student debt has ensured where and how universities spend their funds is in the spotlight. With the recommended reduction on student fees looming over them, we can expect an increasing demand for expertise around cost reduction and doing more with less. Universities will ultimately want to be able to demonstrate good governance of expenditure and that course costs are controlled proportionally.

Recommendations for a new approach to the Widening Participation agenda are likely to drive a greater focus on attracting students from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The Review is clear from the outset the higher education system is a central force in improving social mobility and suggests a Student Premium should be incorporated into the grant structure. Universities will be able to apply for the Premium based on their intake of socio-economically disadvantaged students. It is an approach which is likely to require universities to carry out data mapping and modelling to identify current and prospective WP students. At the same time, universities will be considering pathways for attracting and retaining these students; working in conjunction with schools and colleges to nurture talent is one approach growing in popularity and will drive demand for senior professionals who can develop and nurture academic partnerships. 

This type of collaboration mirrors the Review’s recognition that further education colleges have a critical role in providing a route to higher education. Its recommendations centre on a national network of further education colleges which not only provide high quality technical and professional education but also act as engines of social mobility and inclusion. The notion places further emphasis on a closer working relationship between the UK’s higher and further education sectors. It is also a vision of the future which is already starting to take shape with a handful of institutions across HE and FE coming together to provide a more cohesive education landscape. Lambeth College recently joined the ranks of London South Bank University’s (LSBU) ‘family’ of institutions, with David Phoenix, Vice Chancellor of LSBU, commenting, "by partnering with Lambeth College we will be able to create clear routes from college, to university and into successful careers". If these joint ventures prove successful then there is an expectation that the wider sector will follow suit. It is a highly probable future whereby senior leaders who have experience around mergers and organisational partnerships will be increasingly sought after.  

The call to cap tuition fees at £7,500 and freeze all loan interest for the period of study will continue to provide much of the debate over the next 12 months. Jeremy Hunt has even waded in with an innovative offer for entrepreneurs as part of his bid to secure the top job: launch a start-up after graduating and if it employs more than 10 people over 5 years – loan repayments will be waived.

However, if the Review’s less contentious recommendations begin to play out, the UK’s higher education recruitment and resourcing needs will gravitate towards better and more relevant curriculum design, strong financial governance and truly positive academic partnerships. 

For more information, please contact Sarah Shaw


Professor Bill Wardle at 28/06/2019 14:26 said:

Capping fees at £7.5k will have consequences, as follows:

1 Universities will lobby hard against this and the least they will settle for is compensatory block grant so as to sustain the income quantum;

2 If there is capping but no additional block grant, then all universities will look to further commodify u/g provision, a convoluted way of saying 'stack them high and teach them cheap! This will further distort the market, with Russell Group universities becoming even bigger bulk carriers and at the extent of weaker providers;

3 HE provision in colleges will be challenged and threatened. Currently, colleges 'attract' on the basis of a price differential ie they sell a course at £7.5k rather than the £9.25 charged by a full-cream university. Capping the fee removes this market discount (the compensatory block grant element means nothing to the individual student, only the fee matters). So, colleges forecasting HE vitality and growth will see their market share actually reduce.

Some colleges...notably Bradford and West Notts..have been caught out badly by this and pushed to the brink. So, lenders (banks) will be very wary of business plans based on HE growth. And , even worse, see Lloyds currently being forced by ESA to cut its debt owed by Bradford College from E£40m to £20m, with the bank 'hoist' by its own, allegedly reckless lending.

4 Overall, market shrinkage in terms of a reduced number of players + potential insolvencies + lots of mergers.

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