BUFDG Digest - 19 June 2024

19 June 2024      Matt Sisson, Projects and Membership Manager


BUFDG has a new address! After a couple of post-Covid years in a temporary office, PHES (our parent company) now has new space in the Charnwood Building at the M1 end of the Loughborough University campus. The new address in full is:

Professional HE Services Ltd, Charnwood Building. Holywell Park, Ashby Road, Loughborough University, Leicestershire. LE11 3AQ.

We’re pleased to congratulate Sarah Randall-Paley, Director of Finance at Lancaster University, former Chair of BUFDG, and current Chair of the Tax Group, for being awarded an MBE for services to education in the King's birthday honours. Very well-deserved!

We’ve had requests recently for benchmarking information about the size and shape of university finance teams. Here’s a reminder that we ran a survey and published a report last year. The report should help colleagues gain a broader understanding of the finance leadership, functions, and departmental structures within BUFDG member universities, and to offer insights into how other universities work. If you have any queries relating to this report please contact Joni. Please note that this report and the corresponding data is available to BUFDG members only and should not be shared without prior permission.


Coverage of Higher Education during the election campaign so far has perhaps fallen into the ‘less than hoped, more than expected’ category.

HEPI has been keeping the sector updated with a downloadable summary of all the parties' commitments in their manifestos as they have been released, as well as a series of excellent explainers of some of the key challenges facing the sector in the lead up to the election. Here’s the final one covering (mostly English) regulation, with the other six on this page. There’s also a major policy report looking at ‘four futures’ for English HE, written by Professor Sir Chris Husbands, recently V-C at Sheffield Hallam University, and described in the foreword as ‘vital reading for those who want to understand how fine the balance is between a sector that will spend the next decade reacting haphazardly to recurrent crises in institutional finances and purpose, and one that is able to forge a path towards being a key part of the UK’s future success’.

The manifestos themselves are available on these links for the Conservatives, LibDems, Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Greens. Reform are a private company rather than a political party, so they have a contract instead. On the sector side, here are the wish lists from UUK, Universities Wales, the Russell Group, Guild H E, UCU, and IndependentHE. With all the manifestos in, IPSOS has published polling on what the public think about them, including individual policy proposals. The Conservative policy of cutting the number of university courses and funding 100,000 extra apprenticeships instead (let’s just pretend they’re fungible…) is backed by just over half the population, but not quite as popular as Labour’s plan to end the VAT exemption for private schools.

Further commentary and predictions have been forthcoming from many of the usual sources. Over on Wonkhe, David Kernohan notes how the post-war consensus on the need for more graduates has collapsed, Mark Leach wonders whether England will see fee-rises, and Alistair Jarvis ponders the possibility of a post-poll review. On the Conservative Home website, there’s a consideration of VAT on tuition fees. Lastly, colleagues over at AHUA have cast their eyes over the Labour manifesto, and assess that for HE it might actually mean ‘change’.


The Scottish Funding Council has published its Outcomes Framework and Assurance Model – the replacement for the current assurance and accountability arrangements, starting for 24/25. It launches with an accompanying blog post from Jacqui Brasted, the SFC’s interim Director of Access, Learning and Outcomes. David Kernohan shares his thoughts on Wonkhe. In related Scottish news, Universities Scotland made a submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Education, Children, and Young People’s Committee, highlighting the financial challenges facing the sector, while Sir Paul Grice, V-C at Queen Margaret University has called for a ‘cross-party commission’ to look at a new way of funding HE in Scotland. The most recent school leaver data (2022-23 leavers) shows fewer are choosing HE but a bit of growth for FE.

Wales’ new funder and regulator, formerly known as CTER, will now be known as Medr. Transfer of powers from HEFCW are still expected on 1 August.

AdvanceHE and HEPI have published the latest edition of their annual Student Academic Experience Survey. Jim Dickinson on Wonkhe adds further excellent analysis, pointing out an improvement in perceptions of value but concerns about a split in experience between those that have and those that don’t. In London, the ‘cost of learning’ crisis means students are making difficult choices about where, or even whether, to study, according to new research from London Higher.

The latest QS World University Rankings are out, and it’s sobering reading, with the headline for the UK one of ‘irreversible decline’. Prospect magazine has a long read on the challenges facing the sector, and what went wrong. Over at the Times Higher (£), John Morgan wonders what would actually happen if a provider went under.

The International Higher Education Commission has published a report ‘ Data Matters in Higher Education’, highlighting the challenges that result from poor data in the sector, hindering strategic planning and effective policy making.

At some point in the last month or so there has been a further update from the ONS on their plan to reassess the public/private classification of the HE sector, possibly due to the election. The forward work plan seems to have pushed assessments back a Quarter, so these are now: Scotland - Q3 '24; Wales - Q4 '24; NI - Q4 '24, and; England - 'During 2025'.

Jisc has published a toolkit on the adoption of AI within universities, as well as report on Digital Sustainability in Tertiary Education, with some fascinating insights, suggestions for action, and ideas about how Jisc can help. Tying those two things together is the news that the global energy consumption for data centres, AI, and cryptocurrency will have doubled in four years, and by the end of 2026 will be larger than the entire usage of Japan (the world’s third largest economy…).

On Knowledge Exchange, the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) has released a new report calling for the creation of a ‘long-term funding and policy framework’ to improve interactions between SMEs and University partners, and develop their potential for growth. Also, Praxis Auril has rebranded to Knowledge Exchange UK.

Finally, the British Academy wants to see a pause and a big re-think on Open Access proposals for REF29.


The BUFDG tax team are recuperating after three days of solid tax talk at the BUFDG 2024 online Tax Conference last week. The slides and recordings are now available for all registered attendees. If you were not able to attend, you might want to read through their article summarising all the sessions or, alternatively, purchase access to the recordings by emailing Gill here.

Each year, they award individuals who have spent the last year, or their entire higher education working life helping and supporting others within the sector. You can find details of all the recipients here.

BDO have put together a summary guide of all the political parties' tax pledges.


Colleagues across the sector have been looking at the possibility of university groups using the audit exemption for subsidiary companies. We commissioned advice from Pinsent Masons to look at this question, and published it last week. The advice covers the principles of whether/when universities could use the exemption, any associated risks, the charity law considerations, the accounting implications, and any issues with non-charitable expenditure. It is a high level starting point to assist discussions within university teams.

When considering options relating to subsidiary company audits, there is of course also the possibility of using a different (perhaps smaller and/or more local) firm for these audits, rather than the same firm who undertakes the university audit.

Also, a reminder that earlier this month the Financial Reporting Group (FRG) together with the audit firms delivered their annual Financial Statements Workshop on-line, looking at updates, as well as best practice from the financial statement reviews. The recordings and slides can be found here.


The national Responsible Procurement Group (RPG) has released its update for the second quarter of 2024 which you can read here. The update contains details on the work of the steering group, as well as information on the activities of each of the sub-groups. This edition covers supply chain emissions, the Nottingham Trent net-zero carbon supplier tool, risk analysis, and social responsibility resources.

In addition, there’s a short HEPA Digest for June on the website, with details of the summer Heads of Procurement meetings, eligibility criteria for the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, and further updates on the Transforming Public Procurement programme.

The Information and Commissioners Office (ICO) have published a report which will help members “learn from the mistakes of others” in terms of common security failures through practical advice. The report helps you to take simple steps to improve your own security, with the aim of preventing future data breaches before they can happen. This report focuses on the main causes of security breaches, including attacks on the supply chain. A reminder that Jisc is your first port of call for any cyber security issues.


BUFDG, under the auspices of the Investment Management and Practice working group, has been working in partnership with Cazenove Charities on a new report (due for release at the end of June) outlining actionable steps for universities to align their investments to net zero.

The underpinning research draws on the findings from university investor survey responses, individual interviews, and two peer review roundtables. The findings will be discussed at a webinar on Thursday 4 July 3-4pm, and you can register your place here.  


The next Income Collection and Management Time to Talk webinar takes place on Friday 5th July. This is an informal meeting to share ideas, thoughts and approaches on Income Collection. It is also a space to share recent new initiatives and best practice. The sessions are for HEP members only and the meetings are not recorded. For any queries, please contact Rachel.

The wider PHES group is running another edition of the Introduction to HE for Professional Services Staff course. The course takes place online on 27 June, and is aimed at all professional services staff within their first year of working in HE, who need to grasp the complexities and political environment of HE, and the implications for operating and influencing effectively. The course is free for all staff and runs from 10.30am - 2.30pm.

Our Job of the Fortnight is for a Head of Financial Reporting at the University of St. Andrews. The successful candidate “will have experience of innovating to reduce the monthly reporting timetable and deliver efficiencies in the process whilst maintaining data quality and control”. They will also “be an advocate of staff development and demonstrate strong leadership of the financial reporting function delivering financial expertise, monthly reporting and technical guidance to senior management”. The deadline for applications is 1st July.

Lots of other vacancies can be found on the BUFDG jobs page.

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