With the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) and the post-18 education review on the horizon, Kim Ansell explains why it’s important for higher education institutions to create, demonstrate and communicate value.
In her recent report, Let’s Talk Value, How Universities Create Value for Students, Staff and Society, Professor Carol Adams highlighted that university reporting approaches are less useful without a clear and consistent aim or audience, and that articulation of value in its widest sense is not well demonstrated in the sector. Adams called on the sector to consider integrated thinking and reporting as a possible solution to develop ways of measuring and reporting the value that it creates both institutionally and sector-wide.
A call for the collective voice about value
This week PVCs and DVCs at the Advance HE PVC Network meeting called for the sector to have a collective voice about value and explored perceptions around social value. This should include, for example, not just the contribution of university education to a graduate nurse’s skills, but also their contribution to the community. The delegates concluded that the ‘purpose’ of a higher education seems to have got lost in the rhetoric and the metrics.
Having worked with the ten pathfinder institutions in the last year, I suggest that if the sector continues to focus on the inputs, ‘money (e.g. fees and VC pay) and contact hours,’ then we will continue to undermine our reputation and lose control of the debate. This is something that the pathfinder institutions wholeheartedly agreed with last year, as they now start to explore telling their story in relation to outputs and outcomes.
Setting out long-term plans in the face of sector-wide turbulence is a challenge for every executive team. It is clear that given continued angst over the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF), and with all eyes on the post-18 education review and forthcoming KEF, that assumptions underpinning institutional strategies have to be revisited - even if they were written as recently as a year ago.
The Integrated Reporting Framework
At a time when universities are facing ever more scrutiny and public accountability, some have already started to embrace this new way of thinking and reporting using the principles-based, Integrated Reporting Framework. The framework goes further than simply describing an organisation’s financial performance; it also describes its contribution to society, the environment and its own community, relationships and all stakeholders. Institutions which participated in the project believe that if universities can create a joined-up approach to thinking and reporting, aligned to clear business and value-creation models, they will more successfully navigate the journey ahead and overcome barriers to sustainable strategic planning.
HEIs can use integrated thinking and reporting as a tool to make a step change in how they operate and communicate to stakeholders."
Furthermore, over half of the universities involved in the programme, reported that they were changing their understanding of what it means to be transparent. With policymakers calling for more transparency from universities’ about spend and investments and a greater focus on student outcomes, HEIs can use integrated thinking and reporting as a tool to make a step change in how they operate and communicate to stakeholders.
In the next year, with our second cohort of universities, we plan to further develop use of the Integrated Thinking and Reporting framework, for example;
• Intellectual Capital, Human Capital, Social and Relationship Capital, Financial Capital, Environmental Capital
• Transparency and materiality
• Stakeholder engagement
• Communication and reporting.
Understanding the trade-off between resources when making strategic decisions can be more successful and sustainable when done in the context of an informed and disciplined approach to integrated thinking, so we will also explore how institutions can create the right conditions for integrated thinking.
University leaders need information that helps them make sense of a complex world and the direction of travel their institution is likely to take.
The time has never been better for universities to look to integrated thinking and reporting to help them on their journey. Find out more about getting involved with Advance HE’s Integrated Thinking and Reporting project.