The Australian and New Zealand Higher Education sector is preparing for disruption from many sources: Federal government budget pressures; technology changes and students requiring greater support and services than previously. Most universities are preparing for this change by reviewing their processes, staff roles and structures to determine if the way they are currently working is at its most effective and efficient.
A typical approach to save money is to restructure a university’s portfolios and disciplines or to centralise or decentralise services. Many universities have undergone significant restructures or centralisation activities over the past five years. Two universities recently considered another approach – merging their two institutions.
During 2018 the University of South Australia and the University of Adelaide announced the commencement of merger discussions. Their goals for this approach were admirable – to raise the brand awareness of Adelaide, South Australia as a destination for international students; increase the new institution’s level on the rankings tables, and create a large university offering an increased number and level of services.
While there can certainly be benefits from this large-scale merger, the outcome does not necessarily assure flexible organisational structures, efficient processes or high-quality service to students. All too often mergers result in a high level of staff redundancies as shared services are established across main functions including student administration, HR, IT, finance and marketing. It is an extremely costly exercise to bring two large organisations together, let alone two which are so unique in their culture, history and operations..
The decision has now been made not to proceed with the merger. Through the process of evaluation, both universities agreed on setting a short timeframe to decide on the merger to ensure that their staff were not distracted for too long.
Now each university has the opportunity to drive their own unique strategic agendas, focused on their speciality areas in education, research and external engagement. It is an ideal time to review their functional areas, ensure the right staff are working in the right roles, and the organisation realises the optimum activities of all staff.
It is also an excellent opportunity to review existing processes to ensure each institution is best placed to take advantage of an ever-changing external environment. From this assessment of functions, roles and processes, each university can determine if their structures are the best fit for the future.
Both universities offer unique degrees, specialist academic staff and well-supported student services. They can now refocus their energies and move into the next decade delivering high-quality tertiary education to a wide variety of students from all over the world.