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As Professor Mark Thompson succinctly articulated at the Digital Universities UK conference in Exeter, UK universities must pivot from excessive spending on redundant digital and administrative expenses to investing substantially in academic faculties. He emphasized, “Universities have been going the wrong way for some time… in cutting academic [posts], courses and research, and at the same time we are ballooning administrative activity.” This reflection is a critical call to action for institutions that have strayed from their foundational mission: education and research.

The current landscape in higher education is marked by an over-expansion of administrative roles, which not only diverts resources but also dilutes the core academic focus. Professor Thompson pointed to the potential of slashing operational costs by 20% to unlock £10 billion – enough to double the academic workforce in the UK. Such a shift is not just about saving money but refocusing on the university’s primary role – learning and discovery.

The strategy for change involves a radical overhaul of current practices, advocating for a shared digital infrastructure across institutions. This would alleviate the need to reinvent the wheel within each university and reduce the fragmentation that plagues the sector. The example of the NHS jobs board (which Professor Thompson helped to create) demonstrates the efficiencies that can be achieved through such shared platforms.

Read the article on Times Higher Education’s website

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