Thursday, 29 September 2011

The financial health of the HE sector

Grant Thornton presumably published this study primarily for marketing purposes. It serves to keep their name in front of potential clients. Whether it is a great advertisement, I rather doubt.

For a start there are some startling errors (GT claim the sector employs just 130,000 people, which would be less than 1,000 per university. HESA has a rather more believable figure of 387,430). Secondly there's the rather grab-bag assortment of contents: a bit about 2009-10 accounts, a bit about the impact of the new fee and repayment system on the  'representative' graduates, a bit of handwaving about the future of the sector, and a very vague sketch of how universities could outsource everything except the academics. The devil would be in the detail if only there was any detail there.

One thing that strikes me in the analysis of 2009-10 accounts is that this is broken down by mission group which, to me, makes little sense. As you'll see from these charts, there's very little difference between Million+ and the Russells in key financial indicators like proportion of staff costs and % surplus. Given that they differ so much in other ways, this is perhaps surprising.

 In practice, all the mission groups contain a mix of financially sound and less-sound institutions, so the average by mission group isn't very revealing. This is a reminder (and reminders are constantly needed) that not everything about UK HE can be understood by locating each HEI's place in the institutional hierarchy.

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