Q1 2020 Sector Trends and Outlook

Posted: 02/04/2020

What a start to the first quarter of 2020! There is certainly no denying that we have several months of uncertainty in front of us.

But there are trends and happenings within the sector that can at least provide you with some insight into what you can be doing to provide more certainty for your organisation moving forward.

Sector Trends

Here are the trends we’ve seen forming in the last quarter and how they are likely to impact the Higher Education sector moving forward.

Feedback from the Universities Australia Conference

There was a common message from the speakers at Universities Australia conference this year. At the risk of stating the obvious, “Universities face more demands and challenges than ever and no more money to deal with them”.

Minister Dan Tehan reinforced the Morrison Government’s position that additional funds would only be as a result of improved student experience, including freedom of speech, and improved graduate outcomes. Particularly relevant was the view that increased funds had to be accompanied by improved returns for the taxpayer.

Other speakers discussed the increased need for student care, particularly in the areas of counselling and wellbeing, including issues such as suicide prevention. The need to increase access for regional, rural and remote students, as well as disadvantaged or low SES students, was again presented as a challenge. All these areas require additional investment and ongoing funds, and it was not clear where this would come from.

Economist Justin Wolfers offered some comfort that the effects of the Coronavirus may only be short-term. Still, the short-term impact of additional support, revised teaching methodologies, and reduced income all have a financial impact that will last for most of 2020.

So, the message is clear, Universities will need to drive efficiencies and improved productivity across their own institutions to be able to reallocate funds to areas of need or additional support. Easier said than done, but certainly a possibility.

In fact, the Exhibition Hall offered almost every solution possible for improved efficiencies, from curriculum management to service delivery; from learning management systems to fee collection, and everything in between.  That is great if you know exactly what you need, how to implement it, how to manage the internal change process, and ultimately how to deliver the benefits you need. But many do not.

The solution is to step back and have someone independent (independent of your University and the potential solutions) review where you are now and where efficiencies can best be delivered for your institution. This will guide you in what you need and how best to proceed.

DVE can offer you an independent and expert team to guide your decision making.  A small amount spent upfront can save you thousands to potentially millions down the track.

Sector Outlook

With much uncertainly in the sector, many universities have tightened their budgets in 2020 while we seem to be in a holding pattern.

Universities tightening budgets

There was already concern over international student numbers at the end of last year, but this has heightened further by the Coronavirus travel bans and flat domestic student growth for most states.

There is also growing unease around imposed performance measures as well as government funding and how it may be allocated, and whether caps will be increased for all or just for some.

Then there are the challenges with infrastructure, with nearly all universities requiring new space or to update old spaces, and there is a plethora of new, and expensive, technologies promising simplification and cost-cutting, but few with evidence of success.

While keeping the powder dry and holding off on expensive decisions may be wise in many cases, there are a number of relatively low-cost actions that could be taken now that will better position universities for the big decisions to come.

If you’re looking at technology, review what you have and clean up first, then automate.

Putting poor processes into a new system is expensive and wasteful, always look to improve and streamline your processes and procedures.

If you’re looking at structure, stop to look at tasks, functions and outcomes first.

Changing a structure on its own rarely results in better practices and short-term cost savings are seldom maintained as costs are added over time without a fundamental change in work procedures.

If you’re looking at Student Experience, take the time to understand your students.

Creating personas and journey maps will help you define the different cohorts in your university and their differing needs. While some subsequent improvements may be university-wide, doing this work will help you better tailor an experience suitable for them.

Generally, we are all too keen to jump to a solution. But taking the time to define your problem, explore alternative solutions and scope the outcomes you want before you commit the big dollars, will pay dividends in the end.

Are you getting the best value for your spend?

As tough as things are, this may be the greatest time to ask, “Are we getting the best value for our limited funds?” Many institutions are leaking valuable dollars every day by not monitoring their purchases with vendors for contracted services.

If you need to unlock operational efficiency and effectiveness and save money without having to make any drastic changes to your daily operations, DVE can help.

We can help you utilise existing vendors with agreed pricing, identify leakage on contracted goods and services and ensure vendors are charging you correctly for contracted goods and services and more.

Need to tighten your budget? Learn more by emailing us at info@dvesolutions.com.au or call us today on 1800 870 677.