Yesterday saw the announcement of a collaborative framework between the universities of Birmingham and Nottingham. This is something of a first for the UK: two institutions agreeing to collaborate on a broad range of activities without external pump priming.
So does this herald a new dawn for shared services? Possibly, but not perhaps in the way the Government has sought. The driver for the collaboration is growing the businesses of both institutions and not delivering efficiencies. The framework will be a success, according to one of the vice-chancellors, if it delivers “additional collaboration, additional research income and additional visibility in new markets”. So by working together the two institutions will leverage their shared academic knowledge and expertise to develop new lines of research, to seek research funding, and to establish a new presence in other countries. There is scope for sharing research equipment (which will reduce costs and potentially ensure better utilisation of expensive equipment) and possibly joint academic appointments and joint degrees. So some sharing may take place in these areas.
There is little mention of sharing elsewhere though (at least not in the Times Higher Education report). Two areas that are mentioned are international recruitment and procurement. The former has long been ripe for a shared approach – a former colleague reported that whilst many countries had a single point of contact at international student fairs, this was not the case with the UK with each institution present having its own stand (with attendant staff and travel costs). It will be interesting how much saving will be driven through collaborative procurement. It could be argued that this is one area where there are already shared services with most institutions taking advantage to the framework agreements brokered by the regional purchasing consortia. However, it could be that two institutions working together can achieve the economies of scale with greater agility and so strike better deals. Time will tell.
Overall though the driver is to grow the business of the two institutions: greater strength through collaboration. It is worth noting that the majority of the moves to outsourced (whether shared or managed) services in university and college Information Services have not been to reduce costs but to improve the service. Institutions have moved their student email to Live@Edu or to Google to provide a familiar environment and far greater storage space. Others have adopted the NorMAN IT support service as a cost effective way of providing out of hours cover which they would not be able to deliver in house. So perhaps a change of emphasis might drive greater adoption of shared services. Institutions could be more inclined to share if the opportunities for growing the business or enhancing a service are promoted and recognised. Shared services which deliver efficiencies might then naturally evolve from partnership.
Tags: shared services