As announced by the higher education funding bodies in April 2014, there will be no central funding for the HEA from the end of July this year. This means the cost of HEA services will no longer be off-set by government subsidy.
In effect, over the past five years, the funding bodies of the UK subsidised subscriptions to the HEA by some 85%. The removal of grant funding is a major change for the HEA and for subscribers. The average subsidy per subscribing institution over the past five years was £65,000 compared to an average subscription of just £11,000.
Reducing HEA costs and focusing on teaching
In preparation for the removal of grant funding, the HEA has achieved considerable cost reductions – moving from a £27million turnover organisation in 2010-11 to a proposed £9million turnover organisation in 2016-17. In order to maintain lower subscription prices, the HEA Board has reviewed its 2016-17 business plan and identified further savings.
At the same time, the HEA has and continues to develop and strengthen other revenue streams to off-set the cost of subscription work. These revenue streams include consultancy and international business. The latter has the additional benefit of enhancing best practice networks and communities through interactions globally, as well as supporting UK HE’s reputation internationally. The HEA is now working with ministries and institutions in more than 25 countries.
Critically, the HEA has also reviewed its core purpose and now maintains an explicit focus on improving teaching quality and promoting teaching excellence, rather than on the wider aspects of the student experience as we had done in the past.
As a result of the funding changes, we knew it was important for us to understand which services institutions most value so that we could focus our efforts and develop a better subscription offer. Through an extensive programme of market research, conducted at multiple levels with the sector, we identified the following areas of HEA work most in demand from institutions:
- Fellowships and continued work on the professionalisation of teaching, including maintenance and promotion of professional standards in teaching and supporting learning
- Supporting communities of practice beyond institutional boundaries
- Practice-focused CPD opportunities for staff, aligned to the UKPSF
- Horizon-scanning issues and best practice in teaching to future proof the teaching workforce and keep UK HE cutting edge
- Discipline-specific support and collaboration opportunities.
Initial subscription proposal
To continue to support these areas seamlessly into 2016-17, we developed a subscription offer which we shared with Vice-Chancellors in a letter we sent in January this year.
At the core of the offer was access for all staff at subscribing institutions to HEA resources. Our initial pricing was based on 12 bands, reflecting the size of the institutions. We also indicated our intent to pursue a Royal Charter.
Withdrawing the initial offer
In February 2016, following discussions with Universities UK and GuildHE, the HEA Board withdrew the subscription proposal described above for a period of reflection and further consultation, principally with Vice-Chancellors. This period of consultation was in recognition of the fact that a range of concerns had been raised and should be addressed. We also reduced our overall income expectations for subscriptions.
Consulting, listening and reflecting
The consultation was led personally by Professor Rama Thirunamachandran, Chair of the HEA Board and Vice-Chancellor of Canterbury Christ Church University, and Professor Stephanie Marshall, our Chief Executive.
The HEA liaised with Universities UK and GuildHE throughout the process and consultation took place between February and April 2016.
Principles guiding the new HEA subscription package
The input we received from Vice-Chancellors and others, such as Pro-Vice-Chancellors (Learning & Teaching) and institutional contacts, has informed the guiding principles underpinning our new subscription offer for 2016-17.
These principles are:
- The need to provide flexibility and choice by offering options within the subscription package that cater for the diversity of the sector and the needs of different institutions
- Better explanation of the component parts of the subscription offer, particularly with regards to benefits and value
- A transparent and fair pricing methodology based on the number of FTE students which avoids ‘cliff edges’ caused by subscription price bands and works for the range of institutional subscribers.
Valued HEA services
The consultation confirmed those HEA services which institutions value:
- HEA Fellowships which recognise high quality teaching against a national, independent benchmark.
- Course accreditation and opportunities for continuous professional development (CPD) aligned to the UKPSF that transcends organisational boundaries.
- Providing evidence-based frameworks for curriculum enhancement to improve student success in such critical areas as employability, retention and attainment, and assessment and feedback.
- Supporting disciplines by sharing best practice from across the globe through peer networks.
- Developing and providing the evidence to support improvements in the student learning experience via detailed surveys, including the HEA Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES), the HEA Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) and the United Kingdom Engagement Survey (UKES).
- Influencing national policy in collaboration with the sector, including, for example, our work on the student academic experience, Teaching Excellence Framework and professional standards more broadly.
The combination of the guiding principles and reaffirmed value of the HEA services highlighted in the consultation has led us to develop the new subscription package.
Options to reflect different institutional needs
Institutions can now choose from three subscription packages, each of which offers different benefits. Institutions can complement their chosen option by purchasing additional HEA services as they need to support their enhancement goals.
Finally, we reiterate that there are no changes to HEA Fellowship and that we have halted the process leading to a prospective application for a Royal Charter. We recognise that Fellowship is a key part of learning and teaching strategies and this rapidly growing community of over 74,000 HEA Fellows is the bedrock of our communities of practice.
Choosing a subscription offer
The subscriptions packages are now with Vice-Chancellors for them to consider and make their choice.
With the letter to Vice-Chancellors, we have included a form which details the specific pricing for their institution. Individual institution prices reflect FTE student numbers but importantly include discounts and adjustments applied equally to all institutions.
The form enables institutions to indicate their preferred subscription package. HEA Partnership Managers are available to help with any questions from Vice-Chancellors. This includes a short window for any additional comment or feedback, closing on 18 May.
HEA subscription in the context of the Bell Review
In late February 2016, Universities UK established a new working group, chaired by Professor Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor, University of Reading, to examine the current higher education sector agency landscape and provide advice on how the work of the agencies can continue to support the sector effectively into the future.
The group aims to provide a full report, including findings and recommendations, in autumn 2016. We have responded to a request for initial input which you can read by clicking on the box below.
We welcome this review. Nevertheless, in order for you to be supported seamlessly into the new academic year from 1 August, we must continue with the current subscriptions renewal process.