The current challenges facing the Higher Education sector in Australia

Posted: 31/08/2018

Since the former Minister for Education, the Hon Simon Birmingham MP announced budget cuts late last year, universities have lost tens of millions of dollars off their income projections, creating a concerning financial dilemma for most of the 39 publicly funded universities in Australia.

In response to this concern, significant replanning has taken place in the first half of this year, which has seen many universities restructure areas and lose staff immediately to bring about urgent budget savings. This is set to continue in the second half of this year and further on into next year.

While this can seem like an optimal way to create savings, many universities are now finding this is amplifying all existing issues and creating new ones for less people to solve. This then prevents necessary innovation and improvement activities from taking place. In our experience, these are the current challenges facing the Higher Education sector and what can be done to resolve them.

Unhappy and stressed staff

Restructures have (and continue to be) undertaken with limited staff consultation in the early stages. As a result, staff are confronted by change and those that are left behind are feeling uncertain and insecure about the future. Not surprisingly, this is creating extremely anxious, angry and frustrated staff trying to find better ways of working.

High staff turnover

The staff that are redeployed into new areas often do not have the full set of skills or knowledge needed for their new position. Many have so much work to do, due to their colleagues leaving that they cannot complete their work efficiently or effectively. In some instances, this has lead to overworked staff increasing absenteeism and decreasing staff morale.

A loss of corporate knowledge

Due to these restructures and staff leaving, many universities are losing significant corporate knowledge. People who know the processes, procedures, technology and critical elements of information are no longer there. There are many areas that do not have a plan to capture that knowledge first. Even if the staff left behind have similar knowledge, they cannot complete all of the work that needs to be done

Innovation activities on hold

Innovation has perhaps been one of the most significant casualties through budget tightening. Despite it being essential to the growth and sustainability of institutions, innovation have been restricted or put on hold.

The challenge here is, that if universities do not continue to innovate, find new ways of working and utilise new technologies, they will lag behind many institutions in the Higher Education and commercial sector. It also means that students will not be provided with the advantages and opportunities that come from using new age technologies through their learning.

Restructures fail to consider operations

Many restructures we have seen have not taken into consideration the processes and work that is done at an operational level, which is often quite complex.

While some universities are streamlining their processes and utilising technology to assist with process improvement, this is not widespread, as many institutions do not have the staff left to do this work with business as usual taking precedence

Any opportunity to improve processes or design new ways of working is minimal, and only occurring in small pockets of an institution or in universities where there is a service improvement office who can initiate and support this work.

What is the solution?

Fortunately, there are ways that universities can mitigate against the loss of further staff and corporate knowledge. Before embarking on a restructure, we recommend that you:

  • Implement and educate staff on a Holistic Change Framework for all changes which includes a thorough impact analysis for proactive management of change
  • Ensure all processes are documented and can be handed to other staff as and when required
  • Ensure a continuous improvement approach exists to enable adaptability in this environment. As part of this – review processes and identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Organise adequate training and put in place support mechanisms for staff who will be left behind to enable them to complete their work successfully

DVE Solutions has been supporting the Higher Education sector through this period of change in a number of areas including:

Development and implementation of a Holistic Change Framework combining Structural Change, Capability Uplift and Continuous Improvement.

Implementation of Professional development programs that include managing change, leading in disruptive environments, working in changing environments, effective work practices, using the Microsoft Office suite including SharePoint, and identifying and implementing improvement opportunities have helped to upskill remaining staff and drive improvement by creating champions of change.

NEW! Partnership Programs, where for a set monthly fee you have a wide variety of Higher Education professionals on-call, ranging from specialist subject matter experts, project managers, business analysts, administrative and project support, will help institutions improve capability and resources when and as needed.  This has allowed institutions to complete projects on time, meet strategic objectives and KPIs, and continue with innovation and process improvement activities while still having staff focused on business as usual.

These actions have also had the benefit of improving organisational culture, with staff feeling valued, engaged, consulted and part of the improvement solution – and this is the key. If you can utilise the staff you currently have, their experience and expertise and their desire and willingness to improve processes, this is the best approach a university can take in these changing times.

If you’d like to learn more about how these approaches can help your institution click here.