"We guarantee a palace for every first year student"
01/09/2013

The title for this article is derived from an error in an accommodation presentation to prospective students which came to light at the proof reading stage. The challenge now in higher education may be to make the typographical error into a reality.

In the two days previous to writing this piece, around 7,000 people have visited the university casting a critical eye over what we have to offer, and many of them are not just listening to what we are saying, they are making notes and undertaking their own benchmarking exercise, comparing us againstsomeone else who may be reading this article hundreds of miles away.

Each prospective student and their parent(s) are looking for a package that provides the best fit for their aspirations; clearly it is not only about the course and the quality of the teaching and research. How we measure up in this research exercise will not become clear until applications for 2014/15 begin to be received, although visitors are asked to provide feedback on what they have seen.

What is clear is that the most important word around is quality; quality of teaching, quality of research, quality of facilities. In a recent address to colleagues the Vice-Chancellor outlined what he felt were the challenges for our own university and how he felt that these challenges might
be met. His view was, "Quality is key - that is fundamental to all our work." This view is I am sure not unique, but quality may have strings attached. To maintain and enhance quality there would need to be improvements to the estate and a need to generate more funds.

This then is the challenge for us: enhancing quality, improving the estate and increasing the surplus. Taken in isolation it might be possible to achieve one or two of the three aspirations, but to achieve all three will require some serious thought. There will be a need to balance quick wins with a long-term strategy. Major improvements to the estate do not happen overnight, and investing in the estate is a long game rather than something that boosts short-term profitability. The reverse is equally valid, a short-term gain from selling an asset may have a detrimental effect on long-term revenues.

Is there any good news? Well yes, I think there is. There is a way to enhance quality in the sector in a relatively cost neutral way and that is through the best possible recruitment, training and development of the staff who constitute the major asset for your future. All of these elements are key, but are not without their challenges.

The argument set out in balancing quick wins against long-term strategy applies to staff recruitment. It is expensive and time consuming to undertake any recruitment process and it can be tempting to take the best on offer after the interview stage, but will this really fulfill the long-term goals of a sustainable business model? A place is a place, a palace needs the best.